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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 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 design … More »

3D Printing At CES 2017: Metals, Ceramics, and Ultra-Low Cost

 
January 12th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

Last week marked the 50th edition of one of the world’s biggest technology spectacles – CES 2017 – showcasing the connected future of technology. With more than 3,800 exhibiting companies and exhibit space of more than 2.6 million net square feet, CES 2017 hosted some the world’s biggest companies in addition to hosting more than 600 startups. More than 175,000 industry attendees, including 55,000 from outside the U.S., convened in Las Vegas to discover the latest and greatest in many segments of the technology industry.

Probably one of the big trends at CES 2017 was Amazon’s Alexa assistant integrated into all sorts of gadgets everywhere, including cars! Not to be outdone, at this year’s CES, though, no fewer than 56 exhibitors were under the 3D Printing banner – many that you’ve heard of and a few that you probably haven’t. Although there were some basic retreads on previously released products, there were significant developments presented, and the ones that caught our eye were in the areas of materials (metals and ceramics) and affordability (sub-$500 machines).

CES 2017 3D Printing Technologies

Pushing 3D Printing’s Pedal With Metals

Historically, because of high machine and material costs, 3D printing with metals has been prohibitive for many companies and applications, but change is in the air as evidenced by the following introductions at CES 2017.

Markforged introduced Metal X with industrial applications ranging from replacement parts to injection molds using a process it calls Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM). The bulk sintering process uses a bound metal powder rod that transforms into a dense metal part in one step with excellent mechanical properties in all directions. The build volume is 250mm (W) x 220mm (D) x 200mm (H), and layer height is 50 microns. Materials that it can handle include 17-4 Stainless Steel, 303 Stainless Steel, 6061 Aluminum (Beta), 7075 Aluminum (Beta), A-2 Tool Steel (Beta), D-2 Tool Steel (Beta), IN Alloy (Inconel) 625 (Beta), and Titanium Ti-6Al-4V (Beta).

Introducing the Markforge Metal X

ADAM also can create unique geometries, such as closed-cell honeycomb infill. Parts can be printed like the structure in bones – a closed cell inner core encased in a solid outer shell. The ADAM machine also has in-process scanning and inspection capabilities available.

Sculpteo showcased its Smart Suite software for 3D metal printing as it introduced its Agile Metal Technology (AMT). Metal 3D printing is becoming more essential to manufacturing, creating fully functioning parts with high mechanical properties, and sometimes geometries that would be impossible with traditional manufacturing techniques. However, metal 3D printing is not as accessible as most other 3D printing techniques because of the thermic constraints that are inherent to it. Often, several iterations are required before creating a metal part — from designing it in a way that allows for thermic release, to placing the supports correctly, to finding the best 3D printing orientation, etc.

Sculpteo unveils Agile Metal Technology (AMT) at CES 2017

This complex process is why there is a need for expert counseling on metal additive manufacturing projects. The AMT suite provide this expert counseling online for free, as an easy-to-use and commitment-free complement to Scuplteo’s customer support.

ZMorph: A Desktop Manufacturing Swiss Army Knife

Ceramics – To Fire Or Not To Fire

Form X is Formlabs’ new experimental product platform that  showcases innovative tools, materials, and approaches, for advanced users who want to explore the boundaries of what’s possible with desktop stereolithography (SLA). Ceramic Resin is the first Form X product from Formlabs and this experimental material produces post-cured prints with a distinctive aesthetic that looks and feels like ceramic. After firing, prints become pure ceramic parts, suitable for glazing. Ceramic Resin is under development and will be available in early 2017.

The current formulation of Ceramic is optimized for reliable, detailed printing, and is a mixture of ceramic micro-particles dispersed in a photopolymer resin. Objects printed in Ceramic Resin look and feel like ceramic without firing. If you choose to fire your parts, you’ll need to account for various shrinkage effects and use a programmable kiln.

Formlabs’ Retina 3D Printing at CES 2017

Ultra-Low Cost Machines

Overall costs for 3D printers has been dropping for several years, but we’re starting to see decent consumer/hobbyist machines in the sub-$500 range, including a couple from XYZprinting that were introduced at CES 2017.

The da Vinci Nano machine is XYZprinting’s most compact 3D printer with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $229.95, and is promoting this machine to be most suitable for first-time users who are space-constrained and on a tight budget. This machine has a simple one-button printing process, is portable, and will be available in the Spring of 2017.

“We believe it is important to break down technological barriers of all kinds by offering easy-to-use devices that deliver innovative experiences at cost-effective prices,” said Simon Shen, CEO of XYZprinting.

The Nano’s slightly bigger brother machine, the da Vinci Junior 2.0 Mix, is a 3D printer that can blend two PLA filaments of any color. It uses a new dual-feed mechanism with the single extruder module to create a print that gradually changes color as the filament is extruded. Available this month from around $449.95, the printer’s software lets users experiment with different filament colors by choosing from a Multicolor Mode and Mixer Mode.

CES 2017 had something for just about everybody, and then some. Although its moniker is consumer electronics, the show has increasingly grown beyond that to encompass technologies that touch us all – either as consumers or professionals.

Editor’s Note: In just a little over three weeks from now (February 5-8, 2017), we’ll be in Los Angeles as a Media Sponsor for SOLIDWORKS World 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. We’re in the process of booking video interviews for the conference, and if you’re interested in conducting a video interview, contact Sanjay Gangal at 408.221.0982 or sanjay.gangal@ibsystems.com. When edited, the video interviews are 4-7 minutes in length and are a great way to promote you company and its products and services. We hope to see you there at Booth #129!

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