Formnext Follow Up

 

The Barnes Group Advisors is happy to provide a summary of what was seen and learned at Formnext this year which I hope you will find it useful.  Formnext is the largest Additive Manufacturing event that I am aware of.  It split off from Euromold 3 years ago and has grown every year.  It is located in Frankfurt each year in November and now runs 4 days. 

Growth – The growth of Formnext is symbolic of the growth and interest in AM.  Traditionally, it has been a showcase for equipment manufacturers but now includes service bureaus and materials companies.  It has a very inclusive feel about it as a lot of the participants would have known each other for a very long time.  It is quite social and if you were to play 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, it would be a very short game. 

Numbers – Last year there were 13,000 people attending over 3 days.  This year, the estimate is at 21,000 over 4 days and the exhibition space was doubled!

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Bigger, Materials and Manufacturing

Bigger is better?

There were a few large machines on display this year. 

  • SLM Solutions displayed their SLM800 machine – and then got an order for 20!
  • Adira, a Portugese sheet metal manufacturer had what they called the biggest powder bed machine which measured about a metre cubed.  It has a unique box head that moves around the large chamber in a protective environment.
  • GE Additive had their Atlas concept machine, or at least said they did.  You were not allowed to get close to, couldn’t see inside and there was a security guard to ensure you didn’t see anything or take a photo!  
  • Speed3D made a debut hailing all the way from Melbourne, Australia.  They are packaging cold spray machines to replace castings in Aluminium and Copper.  It’s big and fast.

 

Materials and more

There were more materials companies present this year, including some new powder production technologies.  This is an interesting space to watch:

  • Traditional raw materials producers attempting to up-value into making parts via AM.
  • These larger companies are trying to understand how to engage what is viewed as a miniscule market today with the hope that it grows quickly.
  • Powder production is still an afterthought in the industry but is raising in awareness versus previous years.  Even ALD had a booth this year.
  • My personal favorite, mainly because I was completely wrong on what it was and was not, was the ATO One atomizer from a Polish company 3D Lab.  Probably the most innovative product at the show (which is saying a lot).

 

Manufacturing on the Mind

  • Post processing gear was on display which gave me encouragement that the industry is maturing and there were some pretty interesting displays, namely the Assonic ultrasonic rotary sieve.
  • Similarly, ensuring the build file is not being corrupted and is being used on the right machine, right material and is traceable has picked up pace.  This is an area TBGA has been very keen on.  Identify3D made significant announcements leading up to Formnext and at Formnext with Siemens and now Renishaw with other machine manufacturers in the wings.
  • Renishaw and a few others had concepts to de-powder the build whilst it is cooling.  While seemingly benign, take it for granted, it is an acknowledgment that hours can be saved and touch labour eliminated.
  • The equipment manufacturers are just starting to differentiate themselves.  Renishaw’s new 500 unit is good for small to medium parts.  AddUp wants to be a production machine only – and means it.  Additive Industries is supporting their “all in one box” concept with a modular unit that let’s you do process development without occupying the big machine.  Concept Laser and Arcam have been strong in this area but are getting better as they are increasingly comparing notes now both being a part of GE Additive.

 

Another major theme I picked up was binder jetting.  So many options, so many forms.  At least 3 new offerings this year from last and also in direct metal.  I believe this area is set to grow faster than people think because of the greater simplicity of the equipment and therefor cost with speed and size but also detail.  ExOne displayed the Innovent system showing that there is more to binder jetting than infiltrated products, Digital Metals (from Hoganas) had a large booth but no machine, displayed the detail they can provide.  Of course, Desktop Metal was there with the hoopla that you expect.  The FDM style printers were putting out 17-4PH but the “production machine” was a box with a large footprint.  XJet and HP all showed impressively detailed metal parts and had a massive presence.

Overall, a common comment from long time colleagues was “where’s the innovation?”.  Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but the industry cannot keep the pace it was on. The innovation is there, it’s just subtle.  I think this is part of the maturation path.

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