Oct 2, 2018 | By Christopher Barnatt

From 25 to 27 September 2018, the TCT Show was held in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. With over 300 exhibitors and 10,000 attendees, the annual event was a hive of 3D printing innovation, with many new printers and other developments on display. You can watch my video report below.

One of the first 3D printers to capture my attention was the Mimaki 3DUJ-553. This UV curable inkjet hardware was launched in Spring 2018, and received its first public showing in the UK from its local distributors, Hybrid Services. The 3DUJ-553 is able to output over 10 million colours, with a layer thickness down to 19 microns, and has a build volume of 500 x 500 x 300 mm. Many different prints were on display. And as you can see in the pictures here, the quality is very good indeed.

Another 3D printer on its first TCT outing was the Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition from Stratasys. This has a build volume of 355 x 305 x 305 mm, and as is specifically intended to 3D print parts in a Nylon 12 material that is reinforced with 35 per cent chopped carbon fiber. Such parts are very strong and very rigid, and are suitable for replacing aluminium components in some circumstances. As I discussed with a Stratasys representative, with more and more companies seeking to 3D print prototypes, tooling and final parts in-house, the Stratasys Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition is going to find a wealth of industrial applications.

Many other companies were demonstrating hardware intended to facilitate low-run production. For example, on the 3D Systems stand I found a stand alone 3D printer from their Figure 4 factory solutions range. Figure 4 is tended to deliver the “digital moulding” of final production parts. To achieve this, large Figure 4 installations feature modular cells and production systems that integrate multiple printers and robotic automation for high-speed continuous production. It would have been nice to see a complete Figure 4 factory setup at TCT. But sadly, this is never likely to be possible at a tradeshow!

Back on the desktop, Tiertime were displaying their new X5, which the company describes as “continuous 3D printing system for low-volume manufacturing”. The X5 3D printer creates objects using material extrusion in the normal fashion. But when it has finished a print, a door opens on the end of the machine and the build plate on which the part has been printed is ejected. Another build plate is then automatically loaded into place, and printing begins again. The X5 can be equipped with eight build plates, and as these are used up, more can be added while the machine is still in operation. The X5 can therefore run for very long periods as a low-run production workhorse.

Probably the most radical 3D printing solution I saw at TCT was from Blackbelt. While traditionally material extrusion printers have a Z-axis angled at 90 degrees to the print bed, Blackbelt have rotated the print head to operate at either 15, 25, 34 or 45 degrees to a moving built surface. Thermoplastic layers are subsequently extruded at an angle to form objects on a moving carbon fiber belt. This allows 3D prints to be created within a build volume of 340 x 340 mm on the X and Y axis, but potentially any length on the Z axis. Further, as the picture here shows, the Blackbelt printer allows the continuous production of 3D printed parts on a slowly moving production line. Blackbelt describe their printers as “truly disruptive”, and the marketing copy is likely to be correct. Without doubt Blackbelt is a 3D printing company to watch.

All images credit: Christopher Barnatt

The TCT show is a very big and very busy event, and as in previous years I left thinking there were many things I missed. However, I also departed with a strong impression that the 3D printing industry is accelerating its delivery of innovations that are changing the way in which an increasing proportion of prototypes, tooling and final parts may be manufactured. One of the largest challenges ahead is making more companies aware of the possibilities. And in this context, events like the TCT Show play an important role in spreading ideas and opening minds.

Christopher Barnatt is a freelance futurist, and the author of 3D Printing: Third Edition.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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