Oct 3, 2016 | By Christopher Barnatt

On 28 and 29 September, the 2016 TCT Show + Personalize was held in Birmingham in the UK. This remains one of the largest and most comprehensive showcases for additive manufacturing, with most -- if not all -- of the industry’s major players present. See below for my video review of the event, or read on for more information on what was on display, as well as my own three, key take-away reflections (which are not included in the video!).

TCT very successfully brings together both industrial and consumer 3D printing. And probably the most anticipated industrial hardware on display was HP’s Jet Fusion 3D 4200 printer. This shares its ‘Jet Fusion Build Unit’ pedestal with a ‘Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station’, one of which was also lurking at one end of the enormous HP stand.

HP’s workflow is based on one or more build units shuttling back and forth between the printer and the processing station, so facilitating continuous production. Sadly, HP has yet to deliver colour multi jet fusion (MJF) printing. Even so, the black PA12 prints on display were certainly highly detailed and appeared to be robust.

HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 ©Christopher Barnatt

Most certainly delivering colour prints was the latest material jetting 3D printer from Stratasys, the J750. Less of a mouthful that the previous Object 500 Connex 3 flagship model that proceeded it, this delivers exceptional opaque and transparent colour creations, with many great medical and other models on display. It really would be nice if we could all own a J750!

J750 3D print ©Christopher Barnatt

Other notable industrial 3D printers at TCT included Admatec’s ceramic 3D printer -- the ADMAFLEX 130 -- which was launched at the show, 3D Systems' MJP2500, and Renishaw’s RenAM 500M metal additive manufacturing system. All clearly produce very detailed printouts from their respective ceramic, plastic and metal consumables, and indeed my first post-show reflection is how significantly the real-world accuracy and quality of industrial 3D printing is continuing to increase.

3D printers notable by their absence at TCT were Ricoh’s S5500 laser sintering system, the Matsuura LUMEX Avance-25 hybrid laser sintering and CNC milling machine, and Carbon 3D's M1. All of these were billed for a show appearance, and many attendees noted their dismay at not seeing an actual 3D printer. Transporting large industrial hardware to a tradeshow is certainly not a trivial pursuit. However, it is difficult to imagine an exhibitor at a motor show arriving with only a picture or videos of their latest vehicle. As they emerge from the cosy niche of selling rapid prototypers, and out into the much wider world of supplying industrial manufacturing systems, some 3D printing companies still need to up their sales and marketing game.

Fortunately, all of the consumer and other desktop vendors at TCT remembered to put 3D printers in their bags, and some very interesting kit was on display. For example, making their first tradeshow appearance outside of the US were Lulzbot with their very highly respected TAZ 6 and Lulzbot Mini 3D printers. For good measure, Lulzbot also had James Bruton of XRobots on their stand to showcase some of his extraordinary, partially-3D-printed creations.

Also appearing for the first time were Polaroid, who had an expansive display of their ModelSmart 250S personal 3D printers. At £1,500, or $2,200 dollars, these rather large, PLA-only printers are not cheap, and have to be fed their filament from equally pricey chipped cartridges. This said, the entry of Polaroid into the market has to be good for 3D printing, and it will be interesting to see how far the Polaroid brand can manage to extend into additive manufacturing.

Polaroid stand ©Christopher Barnatt

Offering more polished and better value personal 3D printers were several manufacturers, including Ultimaker, Zortrax -- who should win the award for the best stand -- and Tiertime. The latter had a couple of their new, UP mini 2 printers going through their paces, and for $599 these appeared to be very impressive devices indeed.

Zortrax stand ©Christopher Barnatt

In addition to those vendors offering material extrusion hardware, an increasing number of manufacturers were showcasing other desktop technologies. Indeed, the emergence onto the market of additional desktop 3D printing methods was my second big take-away reflection from the 2016 TCT Show. For example, PhotoCentric had three desktop vat photopolymerization (technically 'daylight polymer printing') models on display, ranging from the £699/c.$900 LC 10, through to their brand new £1,499/c.$1,940 LC HR, and on to their £3,799/$4,920 LC Pro. I remember when FormLabs introduced their prosumer-priced photocurable resin 3D printer a few years ago. Still today FormLabs continues to sell great hardware, and I did of course visit a Form 2 at TCT. But from what I've seen of PhotoCentric, they are certainly upping the ante at an even lower price point.

PhotoCentric LC HR printers ©Christopher Barnatt

Bringing another technology to a rather large and well-supported desktop were Mcor with their new Arke model. This produces full-colour printouts via sheet lamination (Mcor call their variant ‘selective deposition lamination’), with the results being pretty cool. However, I was even more impressed with the new desktop-scale hardware from two companies called Sintratec and Sinterit. Both of these are true pioneers who have developed lower-cost powder bed fusion (laser sintering) 3D printers, which has to be regarded as a signature development.

Mcor Arke 3D printer ©Christopher Barnatt

Specifically, Sintratec sell a 4,999 euro kit (c.$5,500) for making your own laser sintering 3D printer, as well as a larger, pre-assembled model called the S1. The latter is expected to sell for about 9,000 euros or 10,000 dollars. And as you would expect from the involved technology, print quality is excellent.

Sintratec S1 3D printer ©Christopher Barnatt

Sintratec's fellow pioneer in bringing laser sintering to the desktop is Sinterit, with their Lisa 3D printer. Here the price is 12,500 euros, or about 14,000 dollars. Once again print quality is excellent, with both rigid and flexible materials already available. Absolutely, laser sintering is not something to be done on your kitchen table, or even in most offices. But the fact that another 3D printing process is making the transition from high-end-industrial to high-end-personal machine tool status has to be very significant indeed.

Sinterit Lisa 3D printer ©Christopher Barnatt

Only a few years ago, material extrusion was the only desktop 3D printing technology. And now, in 2016, the choice exists between material extrusion, vat photopolymerization, sheet lamination and powder bed fusion. Roll on 2020, by which time we may just get a desktop variant of the multi-colour, material jetting process used in the Stratasys J750. Well OK, I can but dream.

Back at the start of this article, I noted that I had three take-away reflections post TCT 2016. While the first was a strong signal of continuous industrial improvement, and the second the widening range of desktop technologies, my final reflection is that the 3D printing industry remains in a major state of flux. Absolutely TCT 2016 was a great show just teeming with a very wide spectrum of exhibitors. However, major competitors in the desktop space -- including Kinpo's XYZ Printing and Printrbot -- were not present at TCT this year. And on the industrial side of things, Prodways, Sciaky and Exone had also decided not to be in town.

I have absolutely no doubt that 3D printing has now emerged from the hype bubble of 2012 and 2013, and that the industry is very much on the rise. However, as my visit to TCT highlighted in a very powerful manner, it really is difficult to predict just which companies will dominate the industry in a few years time. Only two years ago, attendees at TCT spent hour-after-hour listening to 3D System's 3D printed band. But in 2016, 3D Systems was only represented by its partner vendors. Just 24 months ago, nobody would have predicted a TCT Show without a 3D Systems employee manning a stand, or indeed for the largest seller of 3D printers (which according to CONTEXT is currently XYZ Printing) also not to be present. The future for 3D printing is I am certain very bright indeed. But as I mused with several fellow attendees as I left the show, there remain very disruptive times ahead.

 

** Christopher Barnatt is a freelance futurist who runs ExplainingTheFuture.com. His third 3D printing book is published in November 2016.

 

 

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