Oct 2, 2017 | By Christopher Barnatt

From 26 to 28 September 2017, the TCT Show was held in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. The largest such event to date, this showcased the wares and talents of over 250 additive manufacturing organizations, with my video report as below.

As in previous years, TCT featured many great 3D printing innovations. Not least, on the Carbon stand we saw the Adidas Futurecraft 4D sports shoe, which has a 3D printed midsole. This is fabricated on a Carbon 3D printer with its ‘continuous liquid interface production’ or ‘CLIP’ technology. The Futurecraft 4D also received the TCT Consumer Product Application Award 2017 for its use of 3D printing in a consumer product.

Another innovation that captured my imagination was the da Vinci Colour material extrusion 3D printer. This produces objects from a single PLA filament, but infuses the surface of the printout with CMYK inks. The 3D printer is due to launch in November 2017, and was on show with a price tag of £3,200 (about $4,300) including taxes. The quality of the machine’s colour prints is also pretty good -- with excellent continuous tone. So while the technology is no competition to a material jetting colour printer like the J750 from Stratasys, at its price point it could prove highly disruptive. I can indeed imagine the da Vinci Colour becoming very popular with designers and marketing departments for the in-house production of product mockups.

Also innovating with material extrusion were colorFabb, who had a new filament called nGen_LUX. This features diffusion additives that scatter light, which results in printouts that shimmer with a great surface quality. The ‘LUX’ part of the name stands for ‘luxurious’, and there is no doubt that objects made from this new filament look really good with no post processing. I therefore expect nGen_LUX to become very popular with a wide range of users seeking to make jewelry and other unique designer goods.

Extruding a very different type of material were Desktop Metal. As the company’s name suggests, their innovation is a desktop 3D printer for making metal objects (although the debinding unit and furnace required for post-processing are floor-standing hardware). Their technology is called bound metal deposition, and uses a metal powder encapsulated in plastic rods that are supplied to the printer in cartridges. The solid rods are heated and extruded to form object layers, with the result being a green object that is then post-processed in a debinding station to create a delicate brown part. This is then sintered in Desktop Metal’s microwave-enhanced furnace at a temperature of 1,400 degrees Celsius.

The picture below shows a green Desktop Metal part, with a sintered version of the same object below that, and below that some of the bound metal rods that are the system’s build material. The next image that then shows a part that has been polished (left), with a unfinished sintered part for comparison (right).

Other innovations at TCT included the beta version of the DragonFly 2020 from Nano Dimension, which uses an inkjet deposition process and dielectric inks to additively manufacture prototype printed circuit boards. The DragonFly 2020 will hence allow the designers of electronic products to experience the benefits of rapid prototyping that those who design physical goods have enjoyed for many years.

More broadly at the show, it was interesting to witness how the line between prosumer and industrial 3D printing is continuing to blur. For example, on the Ultimaker stand, I had an interesting chat with Siert Wijnia and others about how the company is now targeting the B2B market, in addition to its more established prosumer user base. As just one example of progress in this arena, Ultimaker were showcasing tools, jigs and fixtures produced on an Ultimaker 3 by Volkswagen Autoeuropa. These have resulted in 95 per cent reduction in tool development time, as well as saving Volkswagen Autoeuropa an estimated 150,000 euros per year.

Overall, my visit to TCT was as usual very enjoyable and highly informative. The show remains a great event for gauging the state of play in the additive manufacturing industry, and this year the mood it portrayed was one of great confidence. As we know, the ‘3D printing revolution’ was massively oversold a few years ago, and the industry took a bit of a battering as a result. But at TCT 2017 it was clear that the industry has not just recovered from the hype hiccup, but is now going from strength to strength. It was, for example, good to see 3D Systems back in town (without a desktop 3D printer in sight), while across the hall a powerfully understated sign for ‘GE Additive’ hung over the Concept Laser stand. I therefore left the TCT Show 2017 with a feeling that 3D printing is marching with vigour into the arena of mainstream manufacturing, as well as continuing to push the limits of possibility for in rapid prototyping and maker innovation.

Christopher Barnatt is an author, YouTuber and freelance futurist. His latest book -- Digital Genesis -- was published in September 2017.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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