Nov 21, 2017 | By Benedict

The 2017 edition of the formnext 3D printing conference was bigger than any previous edition, welcoming more than 20,000 attendees. The event demonstrated how additive manufacturing is moving more and more towards production from its rapid prototyping roots.

Held in the German city of Frankfurt, the 2017 edition of the formnext additive manufacturing conference took place last week, November 14-17, welcoming more than 20,000 visitors through its doors. The event showed just how big a global phenomenon 3D printing is becoming.

Starting with the facts and figures, formnext 2017 hosted 21,492 visitors, more than the 13,384 who attended in 2016 and more than double the 8,982 who joined the inaugural event in 2015.

That increased attendance was reflected by an increased number of exhibitors. 470 3D printing companies set up booths at this year’s event, up on 307 from the previous year and 203 in 2015. The increased interest also meant that formnext 2017 utilized 28,129 square meters of exhibition space, making it double the size of the inaugural event.

But if the increased size of the event showcased a growing global interest in 3D printing (and global it was: 46 per cent of visitors came from outside of Germany), then the nature of the actual 3D printing technology on show proved something rather different: that the industry is, as 3D Systems and others have forecast, moving from prototyping to production.

Mesago Messe Frankfurt's Sascha F. Wenzler, one of formnext's principal organizers, seems to agree, with the industry expert emphasizing how 3D printing is now being considered for the production of all kinds of products.

“Basically, whether they build tools or cars or some other product, every industrial manufacturing company should take a look at AM,” Wenzler said. “The exciting part is that additive manufacturing—or industrial 3D printing, as it's often called—covers such a diverse range of application areas.”

The formnext organizer added that the range of 3D printable items is only going to widen, with 3D printing able to create “not just end products, but components, spare parts, and other means of production, as well.”

Some of the most high-profile 3D printing systems on show at formnext 2017 fit the narrative that this is an industry focused on attempting to tackle the production of end-use parts, not just the fabrication of disposable prototypes.

GE Additive, for example, used its presence at the Frankfurt-based conference to unveil its large-scale Concept Laser metal 3D printer, the first product in its A.T.L.A.S (Additive Technology Large Area System) project.

Described as “scalable and customizable,” the GE 3D printer has a huge build volume (1.1 x 1.1 x 0.3 m) suitable for small-scale production in the aviation, automotive, space, and oil and gas industries.

SLM Solutions also unveiled its own large-scale 3D printing system at formnext, the 500 x 280 x 850 mm SLM 800.

But perhaps the best evidence of changing trends in the additive manufacturing industry can be found not with industrial giants like GE and SLM Solutions, but with smaller 3D printing companies that made their name in desktop 3D printing but which now seem to be aiming for production-ready systems.

(Images: Fon Mag)

Italy’s Roboze is a good example. Known for its beltless Roboze One FDM 3D printer, the Bari-based company offered a completely new solution at formnext. That new 3D printer is the ARGO 500, whose ability to print carbon-reinforced PEEK and other materials makes it suitable for the fabrication of end-use parts in a variety of industries.

Alessio Lorusso, CEO and founder of Roboze, said upon the new 3D printer’s release that the “AM market is changing fast, and customers need to find the right answers,” adding that the ARGO 500 is made for “accelerating the digitization of production processes.”

And while formnext organizer Wenzler is cautious about the extend to which additive manufacturing can produce large quantities of parts, he left no doubt about where 3D printing is heading in the future.

“In some applications…we’re already seeing batch sizes of several thousand units,” Wenzler said. “As the efficiency of AM machines and the processes involved continues to increase, these numbers are sure to keep rising.”

The event chief added that 3D printing can now “introduce more intelligent processes in the right areas of production,” these areas being anything “from the initial idea to the finished product; from designs, materials, hardware, and software to post-processing and quality assurance.”

With formnext 2018 already in the works, it remains to be seen just how big a leap 3D printing can make.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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