Aug 24, 2016 | By Alec

What is next for Stratasys? For despite the extremely good prospects the 3D printing industry as a whole is enjoying, Stratasys has been struggling. Like its main competitor, 3D Systems, this giant of the 3D printing industry has been unable to realize significant growth figures for more than a year. As a result, the company already replaced CEO David Reis with Ilan Levin in July and announced their intention to shift their focus to mass production 3D printing. While some people were doubting if Stratasys was still the great innovator it used to be, all critics will doubtlessly be silenced by the company’s latest announcement. For they have just unveiled what could be the next generation of industrial 3D printing.

And it seems like that next generation is all about breaking out of the traditional 3-axis manufacturing paradigm with its limited build size. For their two new machines, the Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, are all about 3D printing in different angles. The first shifts attention to the vertical plain, making it possible to theoretically 3D print parts of an infinite size that grow out of the side of build platform. The latter, meanwhile, integrates Siemens’ motion controls and PLM software into their 3D printing platform, allowing 3D printing to take place from all angles. Both, however, are completely intended for aerospace and automotive manufacturing, and will ensure that industrial 3D printing is more open and useful than ever before.

As you might have noticed, both machines are called Demonstrators, and that’s because these technologies are still very much in their proof of concept phase. But both will be previewed at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2016 in Chicago (September 12-17) as part of Stratasys’ SHAPING WHAT’S NEXT™ vision for manufacturing. That vision builds on customer responses about what industrial 3D printing challenges need to be tackled. And the Stratasys answer is clear: 3D printing workflows need to better align with individual application needs, with more efficient cost and delivery metrics, while the entire concept of additive manufacturing needs to be more flexible and expand into different directions.

What’s more, the focus is again entirely on industrial applications (after a brief experiment with MakerBot and desktop 3D printing), as was already apparent from their policy shift. Both new 3D printing systems illustrate that, and it’s only fitting that the new technologies were announced alongside new partnerships with Boeing and Ford – who will be exploring new applications for this revolutionary hardware.

The bigger of the two new demonstrators is definitely the new Infinite-Build system, which destroys all size restrictions by quite literally turning 3D printing on its side. Combined with an industrial-grade build platform, and the printing volume expands massively. As the company explains, it has been designed to bring large lightweight, thermoplastic parts with repeatable mechanical properties to aerospace, automotive and other industries. In fact, Boeing played a huge role in defining the requirements for this 3D printing setup, and is currently already exploring possibilities in utilizing such a large volume. Ford is also evaluating it, and will also be working with Stratays on developing new automotive-grade applications not previously possible due to size restrictions.

Aircraft panel 3D printed with the Infinite Build.

According to Darryl Davis, President of Boeing Phantom Works, this demonstrator greatly increases the appeal of 3D printing. “We are always looking for ways to reduce the cost and weight of aircraft structures, or reduce the time it takes to prototype and test new tools and products so we can provide them to customers in a more affordable and rapid manner. The Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator enables products to be made at a much larger and potentially unlimited length, offering us a breakthrough tool to add to our robust additive manufacturing processes,” he said.

This unusual 3D printing technique actually utilizes gravitational supports and bonding techniques to 3D print in this new direction, and obviously opens up a huge number of new design possibilities. It’s no wonder that Mike Whitens of Ford Research & Advanced Engineering echoed the remarks his Boeing colleague. “Our vision at Ford is to make high-speed, high-quality printing of automotive-grade parts a reality. We are excited about the future opportunities that the scalable and versatile Infinite-Build concept can unlock, and look forward to collaborating with Stratasys to help achieve our goals,” he said.

The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, meanwhile, is clearly intended for more precise, functional parts of a smaller size. Made possible by Siemens’ Industry Motion Control system, it is essentially a 3D printer on a robotic arm that destroys existing geometric limitations by 3D printing through an 8-axis motion system. This allows for very precise geometry creation and means that material can be placed anywhere and everywhere, greatly reducing the need for complex support strategies.

As Stratasys revealed, it is largely intended to bring additive manufacturing to industries such as oil & gas, medical and of course the aerospace and automotive, where strong, complex and lightweight structures made from composite materials are extensively used. In almost all cases, however, existing production processes are very labor intensive and wrought by geometric limitations. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator overcomes this through 3D printing on an 8-axis scale, enabling the production of those parts almost completely automatically.

According to Stratasys CEO Ilan Levin, both machines illustrate their renewed commitment to industrial innovation. “Stratasys is building on our success in manufacturing with applications such as manufacturing aids, injection molds and composite tooling, and leveraging our relationships with innovative industry leaders to further extend the applicability of additive manufacturing in demanding production environments,” Levin said. ”We view the level of factory integration, automation, and performance monitoring potentially offered by these new demonstrators as catalysts for the transformation to Industry 4.0. Stratasys invites all visitors to IMTS to see these new technologies, as well as our field-proven industrial additive manufacturing solutions, in action.”

While these previews are very promising already, more will doubtlessly be learnt from the IMTS 2016 demonstrations in September. But one thing seems clear: Stratasys is ready to unleash the next phase in industrial 3D printing.



Posted in 3D Printer



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mr. Ed wrote at 8/24/2016 2:34:05 PM:

a FDM-printer mounted on a robot arm is still a FDM-printer :D

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