The march of new metal AM machines continues as this week, Velo3D announced its comprehensive metal additive manufacturing (AM) solution comprised of the Sapphire system, Flow print preparation software, and Intelligent Fusion technology. According to the company, the solution solves some difficult AM challenges including product design limitations, part-to-part consistency, process control, and cost-effective manufacturing.
“Additive manufacturing has the potential to be revolutionary,” said Ashley Nichols, general manager at 3D Material Technologies (3DMT), a leading metal additive manufacturing services bureau. “Systems are getting bigger, but not delivering on the promises of metal additive manufacturing. Through a collaborative partnership, 3DMT and Velo3D are unlocking new applications, pushing the envelope of what is currently considered possible. We look forward to continued success, and to delivering on the promises of the potential of metal additive manufacturing.”
The Sapphire system is a laser powder bed metal additive 3D printing system designed for high-volume manufacturing. Sapphire is capable of building complex geometries including designs with overhangs that are less than five degrees and large inner diameters without supports. To deliver part-to-part consistency, Sapphire’s integrated in-situ process metrology enables closed loop melt pool control. To maximize productivity, the Sapphire system contains a module that enables automated change-over with offline unpacking.
The Velo3D Sapphire automated system in action
Build envelope is 315 mm diameter, z-axis 400 mm. Build materials include IN718 and Ti6AlV with a typical throughput of >60 cm^3/hour of IN718.
Flow Print Preparation Software
Flow print preparation software includes support generation, process selection, slicing and simulation of complex part designs to validate execution feasibility before the build. Geometrical feature-driven processing enables low angles below 5 degrees. In addition, deformation correction technology enables the user to produce parts without the need for iterations, achieving a first print success rate of up to 90 percent. Flow minimizes the need for supports, reducing typical support volume by 3-5 times, which removes or at least reduces the labor intensive post processing necessary with conventional approaches.
Supporting a part may seem like a straightforward proposition, but there are significant hidden costs and complexities in this process. The first is in the design of the supports. Deciding where to put supports takes design time and effort during print preparation, because support shape and placement is not a simple process; it requires experience and judgement in order to get the best results.
A frequent outcome is that designers err on the side of over-supporting low-angle surfaces, in order to avoid build failure. This results in many supports that later need to be removed, and depending on the complexity of the supports, this can be a difficult proposition, requiring multiple set-ups on a CNC mill, or wire EDM, or a turning step. It takes time to print so many supports; this adds to the total build time, and build cost is primarily a function of build time.
The Velo3D Sapphire System is a 3D metal printer for high-volume manufacturing
Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer, announced this week that following a 21-day trial, a jury in the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, Boston, unanimously found that Markforged did not infringe any claims of IP belonging to Desktop Metal, another developer of 3D printing machines.
Desktop Metal had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival metal 3D printing company Markforged. Markforged responded, saying it “categorically denies” the allegations. Markforged responded to those allegations, denying any wrongdoing and responded with its own court filings. Desktop Metal sought significant damages from Markforged.
Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop said: “We believe Markforged products clearly utilize technology patented by Desktop Metal and we will do what is necessary to protect our IP and our company.”
Desktop Metal had claimed that the manner in which the Markforged Metal X printer forms ceramic release layers in order to print complex parts infringed on their patents. After deliberating for less a day, the jury returned a complete non-infringement verdict, finding that Markforged did not infringe and had not induced or contributed to infringement by its customers.
In a nutshell, the lawsuit alleged that Markforged used Desktop Metal’s patented technologies on the Metal X 3D printer, specifically technologies relating to support structure breakaway.
The most relevant Desktop Metal patents, numbers 9,815,118 and 9,833,839, were first put to use in Desktop Metal’s Studio and Production 3D printing systems. In its legal complaint, Desktop Metal compares the patented technology to apparently similar technology used in Markforged’s Metal X 3D printer.
Other patents referenced in the case included: 9,815,118 – Fabricating multi-part assemblies 9,833,839 – Fabricating an interface layer for removable support 5,182,056 – Stereolithography method and apparatus employing various penetration depths 5,182,170 – Method of producing parts by selective beam interaction of powder with gas phase reactant 5,204,055 – Three-dimensional printing techniques 5,242,098 – Method of explosively bonding composite metal structures 5,286,573 – Method and support structures for creation of objects by layer deposition 5,387,380 – Three-dimensional printing techniques 5,496,682 – Three dimensional sintered inorganic structures using photopolymerization
For Markforged, this verdict validates the history of independently developed IP that has fueled its year-over-year growth. To date, Markforged has 100 filed patent applications and 15 issued patents, the most recent of which – US Patent 10,000,011 – was issued last month.
Announced in 2017, the Markforged Metal X 3D printing system is transforming the way businesses approach their manufacturing operations, amidst a quickly growing metal 3D market that IDTechEx estimates will be worth $12B by 2028. Markforged Metal X customers print end-use parts that the company claims are 50% lighter and 95% faster than other part creation processes.
Greg Mark, founder and CEO of Markforged, said, “I founded Markforged in my kitchen six years ago. I dreamt of giving every engineer the ability to 3D print real, functional, mechanical parts. We invented something that had never existed before — a continuous carbon fiber 3D printer. Our Metal X product is an extension of that platform. We’ve come a long way. We now have the most advanced technology platform in 3D printing, and I’m incredibly proud of what our team of engineers have accomplished. A competitor filed a lawsuit against us, including various far-fetched allegations. Markforged categorically denies these allegations and we will be formally responding shortly in our own court filing”.
“Markforged printers have changed the way businesses produce strong parts while dramatically impacting the delivery times, cost, and supply chain logistics.” said Mark. “We feel gratified that the jury found we do not infringe, and confirmed that the Metal X, our latest extension of the Markforged printing platform, is based on our own proprietary Markforged technology.”
Something struck me as weird with this whole legal debacle. Ironically, the Desktop Metal CEO was on the Markforged board, he left and started Desktop Metal, and less than two years later Markforged announced the Metal X with prototype parts. Likely both parties had worked on this particular project for a while. I just wonder how much the Desktop Metal CEO knew before he left the Markforged board.
Although patent infringement lawsuits like this are nothing new, and will certainly continue, I’m torn. On the one hand, lawsuits like this do the industry no good. I wasn’t so sure the patents would hold up considering that using a binder that gets “sintered” out is not novel to 3D printers – that science has been around a long time. The fact they are pushing it out of a nozzle into shapes also does not make it unique.
On the other hand, to the extent these companies are relying on external investment, and to the extent patents mean the company experiences less competition and is worth more in case of liquidation, patents can accelerate the industry.
Desktop Metal has raised well over $200 million in investment, and obviously some of that was on the based of the value of its patents.
Ultimately, I wasn’t so sure the patents would hold up considering that using a binder that gets “sintered” out is not unique to 3D printers. A quick scan of the two patents in question makes them look a little deeper than just that. I’m not sure how unique they truly are, but it’s more than just “binder + sintering.” However, that does make it unique, as long as they properly reference prior art. That’s how patents work.
Without reading the independent claims of the patents in question, its impossible to know how good or bad the patents are. And unless you’re experienced in reading patents (either because you’ve been trained in it or are a patent attorney), it’s hard to really determine the specific set of claims, just because of how obtuse they’re written. I did a quick skim of the claims in both and didn’t see anything that seemed unusually broad, and they do reference a number of prior patents. One of them, for example, has a few independent claims, but they all are clones of the first one.
That’s not about sintering material with a binder, its specifically about how to do so with two parts in close proximity with them maintaining their mechanical association, but without becoming bound by the binder. All the dependent claims derive from that, and the other independent claims call out specific materials to use as the interface to prevent the bonding of the two sintered parts. That is not obvious, and is justifiably patentable.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments in the Desktop Metal versus Markforged case because it certainly won’t be the last.
An independent consulting firm and industry source that we know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., recently released the Wohlers Report 2018, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide.
Wohlers Associates is widely recognized as the leading consulting firm and foremost authority on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This annual publication has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. Over the 23 years of its publication, many (including me) have referred to the report as the “bible” of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably by the company (and industry).
Wohlers Report 2018 is filled with insightful data and perspective to inform readers of the most critical developments in the industry. According to the new report, an estimated 1,768 metal AM systems were sold in 2017, compared to 983 systems in 2016, an increase of nearly 80%. This dramatic rise in metal AM system installations accompanies improved process monitoring and quality assurance measures in metal AM, although more work is ahead. Increasingly, global manufacturers are becoming aware of the benefits of producing metal parts by additive manufacturing.
The Dramatic Rise In Metal AM System Sales (Source: Wohlers Report 2018)
3D printing, or more accurately, additive manufacturing (AM), has come a long way since its inception, and especially the past few years. It also continues to grow at an amazing rate. IDC forecasts worldwide spending on 3D printing to be early $12 billion in 2018
A new update to the Worldwide Semiannual 3D Printing Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC) shows global spending on 3D printing (including hardware, materials, software, and services) will be nearly $12.0 billion in 2018, an increase of 19.9% over 2017. By 2021, IDC expects worldwide spending to be nearly $20.0 billion with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.5%.
Discrete manufacturing will be the dominant industry for 3D printing, delivering more than half of all worldwide spending throughout the 2017-2021 forecast. Healthcare providers will be the second largest industry with a spending total of nearly $1.3 billion in 2018, followed by education ($974 million) and consumer ($831 million). By 2021, IDC expects professional services and retail to move ahead of the consumer segment. The industries that will see the fastest growth in 3D printing spending over the five-year forecast are the resource industries and healthcare.
The leading use cases for 3D printing are prototypes, aftermarket parts, and parts for new products. As the primary use cases for the discrete manufacturing industry, these three use cases will account for 44% of worldwide spending in 2018.
As testament to this tremendous growth, this week, 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker announced that Robert Bosch GmbH, a leading global supplier of technology and services, will invest in Ultimaker 3 Extended printers on a global scale. After comparing several desktop 3D printers, the additive manufacturing department of Bosch selected Ultimaker as the most reliable, easy-to-use, and machine that produced the highest quality parts. The printers will now be used in different locations across Germany, Hungary, China, India, the United States and Mexico for printing innovative prototypes, tooling, jigs and fixtures, while cutting design and manufacturing costs.
Ultimaker Interview at Westec 2017
As the world’s largest supplier of automotive components and an important supplier of industrial technologies, consumer goods, and energy and building technology, Bosch, has a strategic objective to deliver innovative products. In order to save time and costs, and for a faster time-to-market for its new products, the company decided to invest in desktop 3D printing on a global scale. Now, with the Ultimaker rollout, all departments of the additive manufacturing department of Bosch can benefit from a uniform 3D printing solution with materials, training and global support. This approach will ensure consistent, quality 3D printing results across teams and locations.
Like it or not, since the mid-1980s, the STL file format has been the de facto industry standard for transferring information between CAD programs and additive manufacturing equipment. However, the STL format only contains information about a surface mesh, and cannot represent color, texture, material, substructure, and other properties of a fabricated object.
As additive manufacturing technology has evolved from producing primarily single-material, homogenous shapes to producing multi-material geometries in full color with functionally graded materials and microstructures, there has been a growing need for a standard interchange file format that could support these features. A second factor that prompted the development of a new standard was the improving resolution of additive manufacturing machines. As the fidelity of printing processes approached micron scale resolution, the number of triangles required to describe smooth curved surfaces resulted in unacceptably large file sizes.
The Additive Manufacturing File Format (AMF) was introduced as an alternative to the STL file format to address many of the shortcomings of the popular file format. STL files introduce errors such as leaks and inconsistences, and also does not support color, material The choice, or orientation. STL files also rely on triangle subdivision to account for curvature. As the STL file scales in size, retaining resolution means introducing significantly more triangles. For example, a 10cm sphere at 10 micrometer resolution requires 20,000 triangles. Scaling up the 10cm sphere at the same resolution would significantly increase the amount of triangles, resulting in a much larger file. AMF seeks to address these issues by redesigning the way a 3D object is digitally stored.
Since the dawn of 3D printing, a little over three decades ago, there has been one file format that has dominated communicating with 3D printers — STL. Love it or hate it, and even with its limitations and shortcomings, STL has remained the de facto standard for the 3D printing industry. That may finally be changing, though, with the advent of more contemporary and robust file formats for 3D printing, such as AMF and 3MF. Over the next couple weeks we’ll be discussing the evolution, advantages, and disadvantages of 3D printing file formats, starting this week with STL.
So What Exactly Is An STL File?
Essentially, an STL file stores information about 3D models, but this format describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object without any representation of color, texture, or other common model attributes.
As it has been for three plus decades, the STL file format is still by far the most commonly used file format for communicating with 3D printers.
The true meaning of the file extension .STL has always been somewhat of a mystery. I’ve always considered it be an abbreviation of the word STereoLithography, although sometimes I have also heard it referred to as Standard Triangle Language or Standard Tessellation Language. Which is correct? Probably all of them.
Introduction To The STL File Format
The main purpose of the STL file format is to encode the surface geometry of a 3D object using tessellation. Tessellation is the process of tiling a surface with one or more geometric shapes with no overlaps or gaps. Having no gaps is especially important, as an object must be watertight to be printed. A good real life example of tessellation is a tiled floor.
These are the dog days of summer, the hottest part of the season in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also one of the slowest times of the year for noteworthy “hot” news; MCAD included, politics excluded.
However, this week marked a very noteworthy bit of news: Desktop Metal announced it has completed a $115 million Series D investment round to further accelerate the company’s rapid business growth and adoption of its end-to-end metal 3D printing systems. Since its inception in October 2015, Desktop Metal has raised a total of $212 million in financing, with the Series D marking the largest individual private round for a metal additive manufacturing company.
Desktop Metal Studio System
The Series D round included significant new investment from New Enterprise Associates (NEA), GV (formerly Google Ventures), GE Ventures, Future Fund and Techtronic Industries (TTI), a leader in quality consumer, professional and industrial products, including Milwaukee Tool, AEG, Ryobi, Hoover, Oreck, VAX and Dirt Devil. Additional investors included Lowe’s, Lux Capital, Vertex Ventures, Moonrise Venture Partners, DCVC Opportunity, Tyche, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Shenzhen Capital Group (SCGC), and Saudi Aramco.
With the Studio System, engineers can print complex, functional parts in a variety of materials, including copper. With its high electrical and thermal conductivity, copper is an ideal material for heat exchanger applications, like this copper heat sink for an LED light bulb. (Photo: Desktop Metal)
According to Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal, the funding will help fuel the company’s speed to market, expand its sales programs, as well as progress the development of advanced R&D. The company is also exploring international expansion as early as 2018.
An impossible object is a type of optical illusion. It consists of a two-dimensional figure that is instantly and subconsciously interpreted by the visual system as representing a projection of a three-dimensional object.
In most cases the impossibility becomes apparent after viewing the figure for a few seconds. However, the initial impression of a 3D object remains even after it has been contradicted. There are also more subtle examples of impossible objects where the impossibility does not become apparent spontaneously and it is necessary to consciously examine the geometry of the implied object to determine that it is impossible.
The unsettling nature of impossible objects occurs because of our natural tendency to interpret 2D drawings as 3D objects. With an impossible object, looking at different parts of the object makes one reassess the 3D nature of the object, which confuses the mind.
Although possible to represent in two dimensions, it is not geometrically possible for such an object to exist in the physical world. However, some models of impossible objects have been constructed, such that when they are viewed from a very specific point, the illusion is maintained. Rotating the object or changing the viewpoint breaks the illusion, and therefore many of these models rely on forced perspective or having parts of the model appearing to be further or closer than they actually are.
Below is the Penrose triangle (an impossible object) that was first created by the Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd in 1934. The mathematician Roger Penrose independently devised and popularized it in the 1950s, describing it as “impossibility in its purest form.”
A 3D-printed version of the Reutersvärd Triangle illusion, its appearance created by a forced perspective.
So what does all this have to do with MCADCafe? (more…)
Last month at the RAPID + TCT event, many new things were presented and among those was GE Additive’s setting a target of growing its new additive manufacturing business to $1 billion by 2020, and selling 10,000 metal 3D printing machines in 10 years, building upon acquisitions it announced last year.
“It’s a big number,” said Tim Warden, senior sales director of GE Additive. “That’s why they’re investing heavily,” he said, referring to GE.
GE controls Concept after agreeing last October to buy an initial 75% stake in the German company, with plans to acquire the rest over an undisclosed number of years. The GE Additive turned to Concept Laser after a previously announced deal with SLM Solutions fell through.
The company estimates that it ultimately can expand additive manufacturing into a $10 billion business. GE owns more than 70% of Arcam but doesn’t have full control of the Swedish company.
The following video shows GE Power’s advanced manufacturing facility in Greenville, SC to learn about GE Additive’s metal 3D printing process for creating a gas turbine component that is used to power homes.
GE Additive and the Power of Additive Manufacturing
For now, “We’re concentrating on Concept where we can do what we want to do,” Warden said. “We’re going to support Concept in every way possible.”
Clean up after anything is not usually an especially enjoyable endeavor, even where subtractive or additive manufacturing processes are concerned. This is where post processing comes in.
The Problem with CAD In Subtractive Manufacturing
To cut parts using a CNC cutting machine, it has to be programmed with the path of the desired shape or nest of shapes. Most parts are designed with a CAD program where they are saved in a CAD drawing format, such as DWG, STEP, or several others.
But you can’t just take the CAD file and send it to a cutting machine. It has to be interpreted first, so the CNC on the cutting machine can understand it. The problem with CAD file formats is that:
They usually contain a lot of information that the CNC cutting machine doesn’t need or would find confusing, such as title blocks, Bills Of Material, dimension lines, borders, welding symbols, etc.
They usually have multiple layers, some of which are useful to the CNC and some of which the CNC needs to ignore.
They sometimes have many parts in one file, some of which might need to be cut on the CNC cutter, and some might need to be machined, cast, or sent to an EDM.
They don’t have all of the information needed by a CNC machine. Machines need to be told when to turn a process on and off, how to lead-in and lead-out from a part, etc. All of this information is referred to as the process technology.