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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Stratasys Shows Off Unique 3D Printing Demonstrators At IMTS

October 6th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe


Last month at IMTS 2016 we checked out a lot of new and improved manufacturing technologies, including several innovative developments in 3D printing/additive manufacturing. A couple of the most unique technology introductions were from Stratasys.

The company demonstrated its next-generation manufacturing technologies as part of its Shaping What’s Next vision for manufacturing that builds on its industrial FDM 3D printing expertise in response to the needs of customers’ most challenging applications, addressing manufacturers’ needs to rapidly produce strong parts ranging in size from an automobile armrest to an entire aircraft interior panel.

Stratasys developed two new prototype machines that they called demonstrators to prove their practicality – the Infinite Build 3D Demonstrator and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator.

Stratasys CMO, Tim Bohling, Leads Tour of Company’s 3D Printing at IMTS 2016

The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator

The Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator was designed to address the requirements of aerospace, automotive and other industries for large, lightweight, thermoplastic parts with predictable mechanical properties. The 3D Demonstrator featured a new approach to FDM extrusion that increases throughput and repeatability. The system also employed a unique “infinite-build” approach, that prints on a vertical plane for parts that are virtually unlimited size in the build direction, such as entire airplane panels.

The Infinite-Build demonstrator is called that because, by flipping the vertical FDM process on its side, “We’re able to print parts in that vertical plane direction essentially as large as we want,” said Rich Garrity, president of Stratasys Americas.

It would effectively allow a manufacturer to build, for instance, an interior part of an aircraft all at once. It also allows for customization, such as personalizing those interiors for a specific airline. The Infinite-Build allows for speedier production of tools and parts — at least 10 times faster than current production speeds, Garrity said. It also ensures accuracy and repeatability, giving manufacturers confidence they’re building the products they designed. Its tool-changing capability gives manufacterers the ability to change materials on the fly.

Boeing, one of Stratasys’ best customers, played a key role in defining the specifications for this demonstrator so it would meet their needs for the production of low-volume, customized, lightweight flight parts.

Applying additive manufacturing to end-use parts isn’t totally new. Last year, Stratasys announced that Airbus was producing more than 1,000 flight parts using its high-end additive manufacturing 3D printers. However, the Infinite-Build is “is taking that to a whole new level,” Garrity said.

09212016 stratasys-infinite-build-3d-demonstrator

The Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator is a hybrid technology applied to high-value composite structures

While the potential applications obviously go beyond aerospace, the market there is significant: The aircraft interiors market is estimated to be worth $13.5 billion.

Boeing played a very influential role in defining the requirements and specifications for the demonstrator, and is currently using an Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator to explore the production of low-volume, lightweight parts. Ford Motor Co. is also exploring automotive manufacturing applications for this demonstrator and will evaluate this new technology. Ford and Stratasys will work together to test and develop new applications for automotive-grade 3D printed materials that were not previously possible due to limited size.

“Additive manufacturing represents a great opportunity for Boeing and our customers, so we made a strategic decision more than a decade ago to work closely with Stratasys on this technology. 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,” said Darryl Davis, President, Boeing Phantom Works.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company is exploring automotive manufacturing applications for the Infinite-Build. After using additive manufacturing technology for nearly 30 years for prototyping, the automotive company is now exploring its more functional applications for production.

“3D printing holds the promise of changing automotive design and manufacturing because it opens up new ways to innovate and create efficiencies in production. 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,” said Mike Whitens, director, Vehicle Enterprise Sciences, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering.

Using the Infinite-Build for larger products should eventually help in the production of durable, end-use products, according to Ellen Lee, Ford’s technical Leader of additive manufacturing. Already it “is essential in the short-term,” she said, for the production of tools and fixtures. Ford is also interested in working with Stratasys in driving the materials space more toward automotive industry needs, Lee said.

The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator

The Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator unveiled a hybrid approach for automated composite part production that goes far beyond print-by-layer and enables the full value of additive manufacturing to be applied to high-value composite structures.

Stratasys and Siemens have been working very closely together to further their shared vision of making 3D printing a viable component of production manufacturing. As an example of this vision, Stratasys developed the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, integrating its core additive manufacturing technologies with industrial motion control hardware and design–to-3D printing software capabilities provided by Siemens for printing of 3D composite parts.

Stratasys 3D Demonstrators Build Bigger, Lighter Parts for Auto and Aerospace

The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator is an example of a new opportunity in the 3D printing, which is end-of-arm tools (EOAT) for robots. The technology combines NC programming and rapid prototyping. In other words, it combines technology normally associated with subtractive technologies, like NC, which has been used for cutting, etching, etc. and for additive, which in this case is FDM. In addition, Siemens has been developing design-to-3D software modules as part of its work to close the loops between design and manufacture.

It’s no secret that composites are becoming more widely used because of their lightweight and strength, and Stratasys is hoping to capitalize on this. The challenge is in creating composite parts that are strong in all directions. Fibers have to be laid down in different directions, but the process also has to be repeatable. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator delivers true 3D printing by using an 8-axis motion system that enables precision in the placement of materials and also reduces the need for supports. Siemens’ Arun Jain said, “Siemens is helping to create a flexible, multi-function manufacturing workflow that puts 3D printing firmly in the factory.” He says the Stratasys’ approach with the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator “is one of the most promising.”

In addition to widespread use in transportation industries like automotive and aerospace, industries such as oil & gas and medical use composite materials to make strong, lightweight structures. However, composites production is constrained by labor-intensive processes and geometric limitations. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator provides 3D printing by using an 8-axis motion system that enables precise, directional material placement for strength while also reducing dramatically the need for support strategies that slow production.

09212016 stratasys-infinite-build-3d-printing

Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator part – Boeing aircraft interior panel

“Siemens is pleased to support Stratasys in their innovative additive manufacturing initiatives, of which the Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator is one of the most promising. By working closely with Stratasys on motion control and CNC automation, Siemens is helping to create a flexible, multi-function manufacturing workflow that puts 3D printing firmly in the factory. We look forward to continuing to work with Stratasys to build manufacturing solutions that transform industries,” said Jain.

“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,” said Ilan Levin, CEO, Stratasys. ”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.”

The new 3D demonstrators that Stratasys rolled out were co-developed with Boeing and Siemens, and have clear applications in the automotive and airplane industries. Ford is also partnering with Stratasys to explore applications for the new technologies.

Siemens has been investing intensively in additive manufacturing as both a consumer and supplier of technology, Andreas Saar, vice president of manufacturing engineering solutions for Siemens PLM Software said. Several companies have expressed interest to Siemens in bringing this equipment to the factory floor. With our experience from Siemens’ side in terms of driving robotics and Stratasys’ vast experience in materials and FDM, we believe this is a perfect combination to advance additive into a production environment.”

Very interesting stuff from Stratasys and Siemens with huge potential.

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