One on One – Terry Wohlers

Terry Wohlers is the President of US-based consultancy Wohlers Associates. As an analyst, author, and speaker, he is an internationally-renowned expert in the field of additive manufacturing. He spoke to William Poole.

AMT: Tell us firstly about Wohlers Associates and what the company does.

Terry Wohlers: Wohlers Associates turned 32 years of age last November. Most of the three decades-plus have been focused on additive manufacturing and 3D printing – terms that are used interchangeably. In the last couple of decades, our focus has been almost 100% on additive, as well as complementary technologies, such as design tools, 3D scanning, and post-processing – things linked in some way to additive manufacturing.

The core business is consulting. We work with client companies of all types and sizes. Among them are RØDE Microphones of Sydney, America Makes, Airbus, Honeywell, and many other organisations in 26 countries.

An important part of our business is the Wohlers Report, an annual review of the state of the additive manufacturing industry. We’ve been publishing it for 23 years and we’ll be starting our next edition early next year. As many as 80 people in 32 countries help with the report, so it’s truly a global effort.

The third leg of our business is speaking engagements and design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) hands-on courses. In fact, we conducted a three-day DfAM course at RMIT University in early December. The course covers design considerations that need to taken into account. Those who take the course run software tools, work in small teams, and have parts built overnight. The DfAM courses are an important and growing part of our business and are a reflection of the maturing AM industry.


AMT: What was your professional background and how did you end up so closely involved in additive manufacturing?

TW: I started the company in 1986 after grad school, where I was focussed on manufacturing and product development (and as an undergraduate as well). Wohlers Associates was a consulting firm focused on product development and CAD/CAM tools and applications from the very beginning. It was before additive manufacturing was introduced and commericalised, so nobody knew about it. 3D Systems showed its first beta systems in 1987, and that was when I was introduced to it, about a year after we started Wohlers Associates. And the rest is history.

We got very excited about it, thinking this could be very powerful, as useful as CAD solid modelling. When you’re young and you’re not real sure where you want to go, but you think you want to take a company in a certain direction, you build some flexibility into it. And when you uncover something that’s new and exciting, the light bulb in your head illuminates and you say “This could be big some day.” We were maybe a few years ahead of our time, but we could see it was going to grow over time. Over the next few years, we were invited to speak and write articles on the subject and we accepted consulting projects.

Our really big break was working for a company which was at the time – and still is today – the largest manufacturer of custom-fit, in-the-ear, hearing aids. Back in 1988-89 they wanted to produce parts using additive manufacturing, so we helped them develop the process by scanning the ear impression, developing software to process the data and send that data to the additive manufacturing machines for production. The project went for four years. The company had us going around the world, learning as much as we could, and reporting progress to the management. It was a little early back in those days; everything worked, but not very well. Materials were poor and the software wasn’t good, and the machines were slow and expensive, so the project was put on the backburner. Several years later, Phonak and Siemens got together and were the first to commercialise it, so they got the credit. Today, more than 90% of custom hearing aid shells are manufactured this way.


AMT: I think a lot of the general public might be surprised to learn that additive manufacturing has been in use as far back as the 1980s.

TW: That’s correct. Additive manufactured parts were installed on the International Space Station and flying on the entire fleet of the Space Shuttle nearly 20 years ago. Rocketdyne, which was owned by Boeing at the time, was building parts by laser sintering for installation on the Shuttle fleet in 2000. Additive manufacturing has been used in many rigorous applications since then.


AMT: We saw a lot of hype about 3D printing about five years ago, but things seem to have settled down in the public perception more recently. Would you say there is a clearer understanding about the potential of the technology these days?

TW: Yes. Most people now are more realistic as to what can and can’t be done. There’s always going to be hype about anything, but you’re right: it peaked around the 2012-13 timeframe and since then, reality has set in, which is good. People have understood that 3D printing isn’t magic. We’re still hearing some hype around 3D-printed buildings. I believe there’s an application for concrete printers, but building entire homes, at least the way it’s been shown to date, does not have merit.

For product development and manufacturing, a growing number of people appreciate more fully what it takes to build a good-quality part. It’s not always easy to build good-quality parts, whether it’s CNC milling, injection moulding, or additive manufacturing. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.


AMT: What do you think are the most significant trends in additive manufacturing at the moment?

TW: One trend is that customers are now learning that it’s more than just buying additive manufacturing machines. Once you have the machines, the effort is largely about having software tools and a system in place to review where capacity is available, and tracking jobs. We’re seeing development at the front end, but even more going on at the back end related to post-processing. A part of this overall trend is the growing number of machines and tools available to help automate and streamline powder removal, part-finishing, and inspection. At last November’s Formnext in Frankfurt, Germany, we saw many machines and processes that surround and support additive manufacturing. We also saw a lot of software tools for distortion analysis and design optimisation.


AMT: That’s interesting. Is that shift in emphasis, from the printers themselves towards this complementary technology, indicative of a move towards actual production rather than just prototyping?

TW: The additive manufacturing industry has had 30 years to figure out how to use these devices for prototyping and tooling. Companies have figured it out. Taking it into manufacturing is an order of magnitude more difficult to achieve, so a lot of effort is going into it, from the likes of Airbus, GE, HP, Honeywell Aerospace, Striker, and many others. Companies are using robots and other forms of automation to drive down costs. Each part is on a case-by-case basis, on whether it makes sense to produce by additive manufacturing. It’s typically done carefully on a very controlled basis because the parts can still be quite expensive.


AMT: What about printing in metals? That seems to be a big area of progress at the moment.

TW: What’s interesting about metals, compared to the polymers, is that most of the metals are very similar or identical to those for conventional manufacturing processes. As a result, additive manufacturing machines are producing parts that are better than cast parts and sometimes on par with wrought properties. With casting, molten metal is poured into into a mould, and solidification occurs at different rates and in different places, resulting in weld lines. Even so, castings are used for a very wide range of parts and products. In the case of additive manufacturing, the microstructure of the metal is are more consistent and better than most castings.

From nearly the beginning of metal additive manufacturing, organisations have viewed it as a solution for real manufacturing. Companies will do some early parts for prototyping and design validation, but ultimately it’s for manufacturing. What’s more, most of the systems have been open in the sense that you can buy materials from third-party companies at competitive prices, which helps support the interest in using them for actual manufacturing.

Organisations are indeed manufacturing with these machines.They include orthopaedic implant manufacturers, dental companies, and those producing parts for aircraft. I mentioned Honeywell Aerospace. It claims to be producing more metal parts for flight than any other company in the world. Airbus is also certifying metal parts for flight, which is exciting.

But there’s also some more obscure, less well-known companies. Croft Filters in the UK is 3D printing metal filters for food processing, chemical processing, and many other applications. They’re a relatively small company, but they’re growing. I just talked with someone today who’s building bicycle parts, building the lugs to connect carbon fibre tubes on the frame. And they’re doing custom parts for different riders. I spoke with someone from another very small company today that are producing human jaw (mandible) implants for human patients. A surgeon is the founder of the company and they recently purchased metal additive manufacturing machine. It’s good to see small companies adopt the technology and drive it.


AMT: It seems like it’s not about using this technology to make things that are the same as traditionally manufactured parts. It’s about using it to do things that don’t exist yet, things that are completely new.

TW: Correct. If you’re trying to use it as a replacement technology, in some cases it will work. If your volumes are low enough, it could be a good alternative to how you’re doing it now. The much bigger opportunities are in applying additive manufacturing to new ideas and niche markets.


AMT: Where do you see the technology in 10 years time? What will the newspaper headlines be saying about additive manufacturing?

TW: I’d like to believe that material prices for additive manufacturing will be dramatically lower than they are today. They’re still much too expensive. Currently, it is limiting the industrial adoption for production applications. We will see many more end-to-end solutions, from start to finish, so that customers don’t have to figure it out on their own. Today they do. It’s like a “roll-your-own” type of approach. In the foreseeable future, company will create process and workflows that are far more developed and mature. To date, it has largely been left up to the customer to figure it out. Fortunately, companies like Stratasys, EOS and 3D Systems now have consulting groups that are helping customers figure some of it out. They’re not just selling machines, but also offering services to help you, with applications-development type programs. They help increase the chances of success for the customers. That’s something we will see in ten years time: mature end-to-end solutions.


AMT: Finally what’s your view of the take-up of additive manufacturing in Australia?

TW: This my tenth visit to Australia, so I have picked up a few things about the country. It is certainly a remote part of the world, yet it has adopted additive manufacturing technology in interesting, and in some cases, impressive ways. It’s great to see the ongoing work in academia and the research community in Australia. The next challenge and opportunity is for industry to embrace the technology at the same level, but Australia is not alone. Many other countries are facing the same thing.

Australia has the chance to take additive manufacturing to the next level.  The country has many interesting programs underway, such as the Additive Manufacturing Hub and the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IM CRC). Other additive manufacturing programs and facilities have been launched and rival the best of the best worldwide. Some examples include the Advanced Manufacturing Precinct at RMIT University, ProtoSpace at the University of Technology Sydney, Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing, and CSIRO’s Lab 22. World-class companies, such as RØDE Microphones, are evaluating ways they can apply additive manufacturing to the production of complex parts. Australia has countless bright and creative people, so little is preventing the country from advancing its adoption of additive manufacturing in big ways.

Birdstone delivers Schweppes redesign with 3D Systems prototyping services

Packaging agency Birdstone selected 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team for the delivery of true-to-life prototypes for glass and PET bottles.

As new private label products continue to proliferate in the beverages category, established brands like Schweppes are under increasing pressure to stay current in the eyes of the market. To refresh its image as an upper-mainstream option for mixers and sparkling beverages, Schweppes enlisted Birdstone, a Melbourne-based packaging agency to design a contemporary look for its sparkling waters and carbonated soft drinks.

Schweppes products are offered in both glass and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles. For a comprehensive redesign and evaluation, Birdstone was tasked with generating design proposals and prototypes for each material option. To ensure both sets of prototypes convincingly represented their real-world counterparts, Birdstone collaborated with 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing throughout the redesign, taking advantage of the service bureau’s deep manufacturing expertise and broad technology portfolio to quickly deliver high-quality, true-to-life prototypes to its client.

Designing contemporary packaging across materials

A packaging redesign is no small undertaking. Not only is a production overhaul typically required, and expensive, but it puts a brand’s visual identity on the line. Both Schweppes and Birdstone were highly invested in getting the redesign right, implementing several design check-ins and evaluations throughout the process to ensure they were on the right track.

According to Grant Davies, Director – Design & Strategy at Birdstone, “Our biggest challenge running such a large project for Schweppes was designing a family appearance for multiple materials.”

Fortunately, a history of successful collaborations with 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team had proven to Birdstone that it could focus its energy on design and confidently outsource model production to 3D Systems’ manufacturing experts. 3D Systems’ consultative and collaborative approach hinges on establishing a clear mutual understanding of both visual and functional project requirements to facilitate quick, accurate quoting and fulfillment.

With 3D Systems briefed and on board, Birdstone began its work to contemporise key Schweppes brand elements without abandoning the company’s rich history. Once a design direction had been selected, the project’s complexity grew. To ensure the final family design could be replicated in both glass and PET, design work for each material was undertaken simultaneously. Birdstone worked closely with Schweppes to develop multiple designs that were refined to three distinct concepts, each meeting key objectives including: an increased label area; a sleeker, more premium shape; and a volume reduction for the PET bottle to 1.1 litres.

Multiple checkpoints to validate the design

In creating a new packaging design, there are multiple review checkpoints to ensure all stakeholders agree with the direction and impact of a proposed concept. As a design concept earns more confidence, the sophistication of its representation evolves, typically from a 2D and 3D concept model, to a visualisation and animation, and finally to a physical prototype for in-hand evaluation.

Accordingly, to provide Schweppes with early prototypes to assess the new bottles’ hand feel and proportions, Birdstone ordered 3D-printed models in multiple sizes from 3D Systems. These early stereolithography (SLA) prototypes were central to a concept development workshop, in which stakeholders from marketing to operations reviewed them and provided feedback. Prototyping at this early stage allowed all decision makers to reach a consensus around format and direction before further investments were made in any one design.

Achieving true-to-life bottle prototypes

Once Schweppes was satisfied with the designs internally, it was time to test them with customers. For this stage of the design evaluation it was important for the prototypes to be as realistic to the final product as possible to enable an authentic interaction with, and reaction to, the new designs. Again working with 3D Systems, Birdstone outlined the prototype requirements. The glass and PET versions would each need to convincingly replicate the specific appearance, weight and visual properties of the final two materials.

The variable material properties of glass and PET required different prototyping approaches. Through a combination of creative thinking and an in-depth understanding of different manufacturing technologies and materials, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts advised on the best processes to achieve the desired results. For the 750ml glass design, 3D Systems CNC machined acrylic (PMMA) with a high polish finish, while to achieve the thinness and flexibility of the PET design, 3D Systems again opted for SLA 3D printing using Accura ClearVue with premium finishing. 3D Systems Accura ClearVue is a rigid, tough, clear 3D-printing material offering the highest clarity and transparency on the market. According to Birdstone, both prototyping processes produced outstanding replicas of the production materials.

Birdstone completed the prototypes with self-adhesive graphic labels to give the bottles their research-ready appearance. A total of six bottles were made across three design concepts, which were then subjected to a week of hands-on consumer research. The final design was selected based on these results, giving Schweppes and Birdstone reinforced confidence in the new chosen direction.

As the project continued through to design engineering, Birdstone continued working with 3D Systems as it refined the final bottle concepts with each of the packaging suppliers, and requested two additional sets of prototypes made to the final product specifications.

New design gains traction

Following the initial market release of the refreshed Schweppes range, the beverage company has continued to extend the new design family across additional bottle sizes. The bottle redesign has helped reposition the brand as a high-quality, high-value offering in the face of private label competition.

According to Birdstone Director Iain Blair, “The market success and Schweppes’ confidence in the design can be directly attributed to the meaningful research that was conducted, and which was made possible by the high-quality prototypes by 3D Systems.”

Leveraging the full potential of a heat exchanger with additive manufacturing

Conflux Technology, a Geelong-based additive manufacturing (AM) applications company, has patented a highly efficient, compact heat exchanger design that derives its performance from a geometry that can only be made using AM.

High surface area density, combined with optimised fluid pathways and 3D surface features, results in a high thermal exchange, low-weight, low pressure-drop heat exchanger. The performance advantages were achieved within a rapid development timeline that was underpinned by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling and Design for AM expertise. With no tooling implications to consider, multiple variants can be manufactured simultaneously.

Heat transfer is a ubiquitous challenge that is at the heart of the First Law of Thermodynamics. A heat exchanger, simply speaking, is a device that effectively transfers heat between two or more fluids, typically liquid-liquid, liquid-gas, gas-gas or multiple fluids. You can find them in products like air conditioners and car engines. One practical benefit of such devices is energy recovery. There are numerous others — it is a complex technology with broad applications. Heat exchanger designs and manufacturing methods have evolved with the prevailing technologies available and, consequently, have been limited by those technologies.

Conflux’s Founder and CEO, Michael Fuller, spent more than a decade as an engineer in the automotive racing industry. Here, heat exchangers have to perform in harsh environments, meaning that smaller, more efficient components are constantly sought, but substractive manufacturig methods had reached their limits.

Fuller saw the rapid, transfomative benefits of 3D printing and ultimately identified AM as an enabling technology for the next generation of heat exchangers. Highly complex geometries with hitherto unachievable surface area densities could be achieved, resulting in a compelling thermal exchange performance, all packaged in efficient volumes.

Such components could have a dramatic effect on future developments, such as lighter racing cars and aircrafts. These fundamental opportunities are extended when functions are integrated and multi-variant simultaneous production is realised. Fuller set out to take this idea from concept to design to prototype to product, using industrial 3D printing.

Conflux analysed the industrial AM landscape and, after a technical due diligence process, concluded that EOS was the only partner with the technical and commercial capabilities to fulfill its ambitions. The Conflux Core design was patented after a rapid proof-of-concept development program. Within just six months, six prototypes were built and a final product could be developed.

During the development program, several tools were utilised: CFD complemented the heat exchanger design iterations with flow visualisation and, after correlation, performance predictions. Non-linear thermomechanical finite element modeling was used to analyse the resultant displacements and stresses to ensure structural integrity was maintained.

EOS equipment possesses a suite of specific AM software tools for data preparation, process optimisation and quality assurance. These were all used during the development of the Conflux Core heat exchanger, which now has applications across multiple industries such as aerospace, automotive, oil & gas, chemical processing and micro-processor cooling.

The Conflux Core heat exchanger was compared to a Formula 1 benchmark. Young Calibrations, a UKAS-certified laboratory in the UK, provided accredited calibration services and thermal fluid and component testing services, and tested Conflux’s product. The results underlined the radical improvement Conflux has achieved with its 3D-printed heat exchanger.

AM allowed Conflux to design internal geometries that radically increased the surface area in a given volume. This tripled the thermal heat rejection. At the same time, the pressure drop is reduced by two-thirds. Additionally, AM enabled a compact new design for the heat exchanger, reducing its length by 55mm compared with a F1 benchmark. This ultimately also eliminated 22% of the weight. The design flexibility AM offers allows for optimum placement inside a vehicle and also enables the merging of components, reducing the overall number of parts. Integration of subcomponents into a single part removes assembly time and reduces failure points from joints and seams.

The Conflux Core heat exchanger is the foundation upon which Conflux has developed into an AM applications company focused on thermal and fluid challenges. Customers and development partners from diverse markets have provided Conflux with equally diverse challenges. With an R&D pipeline driving expansion of intellectual property, the company’s technological success stems from its in-house expertise in Design for AM, computational modeling and a deep engagement with EOS. Conflux can work with customers and development partners to create compelling thermal and fluid solutions that will assist in realising the potential of AM within their enterprise.

“Our customers have acceptance criteria that matches exacting quality and repeatable performance,” says Fuller. “EOS systems are the only AM platforms that can produce our challenging geometries whilst exceeding our customers’ requirements.”

Airbus Helicopters saves development costs with German RepRap x400

Production using additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry brings many advantages. Airbus Helicopters uses its German RepRap x400 3D printer in the development field to ensure deadlines, cost and quality goals. In a recent case, it has been utilised in validating the design of an integral new step.

Frank Singer, Head of Department Vehicle System Installation at Airbus Helicopters in Germany explains: “It happens again and again that a crew member of a helicopter stands outside on the runners during the flight due to operational reasons under certain circumstances, such as during operation of the rescue winch. The relatively small footprint on the runners could be optimised by using a step.”

Firstly, the nearly 3m-long model is subdivided into individual printable parts. Afterwards, individual plug-in connections are constructed, in a design reminiscent of a jigsaw puzzle.

“In the past, we have had to divide larger prototypes into separate parts because of the print bed size,” says Frank Singer. “These were often glued together. However, this was always associated with further processing steps, which we can now save – if the application allows it. The quickly printed parts require no further processing steps or curing time of the adhesive anymore. With this method, we have found an ingenious application for this design, to have a large component quickly and cost-effectively available with the print bed size that is available.”

For Airbus Helicopters, the new plug-in connection, for appropriate applications, is an optimal solution because it requires no glue, no screw connection or tools. The plug connection can be used at least 50 times without any signs of wear.

The model is much more stable than it would be in a glueing process. It withstands its own weight of 3.9kg without any problems and can be mounted on the helicopter for illustrative purposes without wobbling or even loosening or falling off. PLA was used because the material can be easily and quickly processed and there were no further requirements for the component.

Airbus Helicopters uses the German RepRap x400 especially for the so-called “FIT Check”. All designed parts are printed as prototypes. With these parts, installability and fitting for the helicopter are checked. Possible changes and adjustments can be easily transferred to the series parts with little effort.

The machine was purchased in 2015 to make it easier for engineers, in particular, to make prototypes faster and easier to test. Over the years, the company has acquired more and more knowledge and no longer wants to work without the 3D printer.

“The x400 is in use every day and often runs on weekends,” Singer adds. “The use of the readily available prototypes or demonstrators has become firmly established in our development process. We see this clearly in the future, especially in the development area. The use of the 3D printer makes it easier for the company to work, especially in the area of prototype construction and in automated production. You can see that clearly in the numbers. In 2017, almost 50 print jobs were carried out, often including several parts. In the first half of 2018 we already had 51 print jobs.”

Transformation In 3D: How a walnut-sized part changed how GE Aviation builds jet engines

A jet engine fuel nozzle doesn’t look like much. Shaped like a water tap perched atop two stubby legs, it resembles a forgotten piece of plumbing equipment small enough to hold in the palm of a hand. Few would ever guess that this unimposing object is among the most disruptive pieces of technology in GE history — one that gave rise to the world’s best-selling commercial jet engines, ignited a new GE business unit, and showed the world just what 3D printing can do. By Amy Kover.

In just a few years, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has evolved from an alien-like technology confined mainly to labs to a bona fide manufacturing method ready for prime time. GE has already started using it to mass-produce parts for jet engines. In October, GE Aviation’s 3D-printing facility in Auburn, Alabama, produced its 30,000th fuel nozzle tip.

It all started a decade ago, when CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines, was developing the LEAP engine, a new commercial jet engine that promised to burn less fuel than existing engines and release fewer emissions. As ambitious plans for the engine unfolded, Mohammad Ehteshami, the head of engineering at GE Aviation at the time, quickly recognised its success rested in many respects on the labyrinthine passages inside the tip of the fuel nozzle, which is designed to mix jet fuel with air in the most efficient manner.

To get the job done right, Ehteshami assembled a top-notch team of engineers, including an amateur pilot named Josh Mook, then just 28 years old, whose work with turbine blades had caught Ehteshami’s attention. Before long, Mook and his colleagues came up with their dream variant, a walnut-sized object that housed 14 elaborate fluid passages.

But as elegant as it was, the part arrived with a flaw: the tip’s interior geometry was too intricate. It was almost impossible to make.

“We tried to cast it eight times, and we failed every time,” Ehteshami recalls.

Traditional methods wouldn’t cut it, but 3D printing just might. A 3D printer functions like a laser pen, following a computer drawing and fusing layer upon layer of fine metal powder into the final shape. 3D printers can build complex, dense parts like the fuel nozzle while generating a fraction of the waste produced by conventional manufacturing. The catch: at the time, GE Aviation used additive manufacturing only for prototypes. It had never printed anything for commercial use, much less for an entire fleet of passenger airplanes.

For Mook, who obsessively tinkered with machines as a boy, this was the dream job. Working closely with 3D-printing pioneer Greg Morris — whose company GE eventually acquired — Mook helped re-engineer off-the-shelf 3D printers to meet the fuel nozzle’s specifications. Rather than 20 pieces welded together, the new tip was a single elegant piece that weighed 25% less than its predecessor, and was five times more durable and 30% more cost-efficient.

But the team was far from finished. They had to work fast to meet the LEAP program schedule and make sure that the US Federal Aviation Administration certified the part. And with orders for the LEAP engine pouring in, GE Aviation needed to figure out how to get its 3D-printing operations ready for mass production.

“People think 3D printing is as simple as operating an ink printer, but it’s not,” says Chris Schuppe, who runs GE Additive’s AddWorks team, a group of almost 200 engineering consultants dedicated to accelerating additive adoption for GE’s customers. “The fuel nozzle requires orchestrating over 3,000 layers of powdered metal that are about the thickness of a human hair.”

GE Aviation assembled a new team of roughly 100 employees, ranging from aviation experts to metallurgists, to hammer out these complex processes. That included making sure each machine was properly calibrated to handle the given product’s material properties — an arduous procedure that must be repeated every time a manufacturer adds a new machine to the production line.

And in 2015, it built the fuel nozzle a 3D-printing facility of its own, in Auburn. With more than 40 3D printers at the ready and a deep pool of talent from Auburn University, the plant delivered a total of 8,000 fuel nozzles in 2017. As of now, the total tally stands at over 33,000 3D-printed fuel nozzle tips.

There’s much to celebrate with this milestone. The factory supplies fuel nozzles for engines that power both the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX jets, with total orders for the LEAP engine exceeding 16,000 – valued at more than US$236bn.

Beyond the LEAP engine, GE Aviation uses additive manufacturing to make sensors, blades, heat exchangers and other parts for engines like the GE9X, the world’s largest jet engine, developed for Boeing’s new 777X wide-body plane. The technology even broke into the small-aircraft industry with Catalyst, GE’s new turboprop engine. Engineers used 3D printing to replace 855 components with just a dozen.

However, aviation is only the beginning. Today the automotive, energy, healthcare and other industries are embracing 3D printing. GE estimates that by 2020, its GE Additive unit will continue to increase its revenue from equipment, materials and services. Amazing what can grow out of one little walnut.

Henkel launches new materials and adhesive solutions for 3D printing

Henkel has released a range of next-generation materials designed to enable and optimise 3D printing and manufacturing processes according to required functionalities and designs.

The materials were launched at Formnext 2018, the leading trade show for additive manufacturing technologies, in Frankfurt in November. Henkel was appearing at Formnext for the first time ever, presenting a variety of differentiated new engineering resin platforms: General Purpose, Flexible, High Temperature, Durable High Impact, Ultra Clear and Silicone Elastomeric.

The company showcased its growing solution portfolio for end-to-end-processes. As an enabler for the resins, Henkel also introduced its new Loctite 3D Printer and equipment for functional prototyping applications at an entry-level. For small-run production and industrial manufacturing of final parts the company is collaborating with technology leaders such as HP and others.

Henkel also launched its first General Bonding Kit for 3D Printing applications. The kit consists of Loctite 3D Printing Universal Bonder and the Loctite 3D Printing Instant Bonder, as well as activators, primers and cleaning products. The kit aims to easily support customers in bonding prototyping parts for the most-known 3D printing technologies. Henkel also offers bonding solutions for the industrial series production of 3D-printed parts. The company also plans to set-up bonding trainings for industrial users via tutorials and webinars soon.

“Formnext is an ideal platform to strengthen our positioning as partner for end-to-end 3D printing processes – for prototyping as well as for applications in the production of final parts”, explained Philipp Loosen, Head of 3D Printing at Henkel.

John Croft appointed to head up AM Hub

AMTIL has announced the appointment of John Croft as the new Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub). John joins AMTIL on the back of a wide-ranging career in Australian manufacturing, having most recently served as Business Development Manager for Automation & Robotics at Robert Bosch Australia.

Led by AMTIL and generously supported by the Victorian Government, the AM Hub has been established to grow and develop additive manufacturing (AM) capability. Its goals are to: promote and market AM capabilities; support the creation of high-quality AM jobs; provide a forum for dialogue and communication for the AM industry; encourage R&D, innovation and collaboration; and provide a strong, cohesive voice on AM sector development.

John is uniquely well placed to oversee the direction of the AM Hub, having been at the forefront of the adoption of AM technology in Australia for more than two decades. In the early 1990s he launched Interact Plastic Services, the first private company in this country to move into AM, having purchased a Stratasys FDM 2000 3D printer. For John, part of the appeal of his new role with AMTIL has been the opportunity to re-engage with AM and its continuing development.

“I have had to ask myself who in their lifetime gets an opportunity to complete something they started 23 years ago?” he said. “I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with AMTIL in one of the major technologies that will eventually become the norm for future manufacturing.”

John started his career from humble beginnings, initially working as an apprentice fitter and turner, before moving quickly into the plastics industry, where he accrued many years of experience in plastics toolmaking. His career has seen him closely involved in every aspect of product  development from concept to manufacturing – including design for manufacture – as well as running consultancies on a range of global platforms and industries.

Commercially astute and strategically focused, John has extensive experience of providing solutions to major players in the manufacturing, defence, automotive, medical, pharmaceutical, FMCG, food and agricultural sectors. At Bosch he had an excellent success rate in identifying commercial opportunities, establishing a new division that would become the preferred supplier of medical device assembly equipment for Cook Medical, Fisher & Paykel, ResMed and Cochlear, as well as supplying a range of other industry sectors.

With exemplary technical and cultural expertise in manufacturing, John has a proven track record in driving growth in sales, revenue and customer base, working with stakeholders from across the globe. His ability to build strong relationships at all levels and to work with key business decision-makers will make him a valuable asset to AMTIL and the AM Hub.

“I look forward to working with the AMTIL staff – our members in making the AM Hub the centre of additive manufacturing in the ASEAN Region,” John added.

Keeping Kenworth moving

Kenworth Australia avoided delays, and saved millions of dollars in costs, through the use of 3D printing in collaboration with Objective3D Direct Manufacturing.

The size of the Australian continent, its geographically dispersed population base and the importance of major commodities to its economic output means that freight transport sector performance has a significant influence on national productivity and efficiency. Figures surrounding the industry are significant. Trucking handles more cargo than trains, ships or planes, carrying more than 2,100 million tons.

Moreover, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the trucking industry is worth over $40bn and employs 140,00 Australians. Trucks are an essential part of our economy. Without trucks, goods would never get from suppliers to manufacturers and into the hands of consumers. Just as the economy depends on the trucking industry, the trucking industry depends on high-quality equipment.

Kenworth Australia has built a reputation around superior-quality, custom-engineered trucks with proven reliability over 47 years of local manufacturing. It manufactures around 2,200 trucks every year for delivery, and has the largest amount of 2015 models on the market. So, when Kenworth was faced with a late design change that threatened the production timeline of its major selling truck lines, it couldn’t let tooling lead time get in the way.

The challenge

In May 2014, Kenworth had designed a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system with Delphi Automotive Systems on its “T” series of trucks, but a late tooling change to the under-dash ducting system meant the HVAC units couldn’t be fitted. The under-dash duct component connects the HVAC outlet bezel to an air distribution manifold on the underside of the dash. The tooling modification was necessary to accommodate both the new HVAC unit and incorporate a new design to improve airflow, assembly and suit the method of manufacture.

The duct component was originally set to be rotationally moulded out of PC-ABS, but the tool modification would take six weeks to complete, putting production of 320 trucks on hold. Kenworth was planning to assemble seven trucks a day for seven weeks from May into June. Halting assembly for even a day would potentially cost the company $2m in revenue.

“Parking half-assembled trucks, making the duct a ‘dealer fit’ requirement or delaying production was out of the question,” said Delphi engineer Ben Dejong. “We needed a process that could build the parts while the was tool was being updated.”

With an approaching deadline, a production solution needed to be found – and fast.

The solution

Delphi had been working with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s global partner in Australia, Objective3D Direct Manufacturing, for over six years for various prototyping and injection moulding projects. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s Global Manufacturing Network consists of member facilities connected around the globe that have many of the same services and expertise as Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.

“We had already been working with both Kenworth, and with Ben and Delphi, on the prototypes to ensure assembly and fitment, ” said Matt Minio, Managing Director at Objective3D Direct Manufacturing. “Both companies had confidence in FDM technology, and it seemed like a logical progression to then scale up from prototype to a production solution. Our role then transformed from rapid prototyping shop into a just-in-time manufacturing supplier.”

Objective3D Direct Manufacturing’s project engineers recommended fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology to manufacture the ductwork for several reasons:

  • Material – Delphi wouldn’t have to change the material of the designed component. They could build it in the same engineering-grade thermoplastic (PC-ABS). Changing materials would have demanded additional design modifications and set back production again.
  • Speed – Objective3D Direct Manufacturing optimised the build orientation and packing to nest three parts across three Fortus FDM systems to manufacture nine parts a day, meeting production needs and reducing build time from 15 hours to nine hours.
  • No finishing – The ducts are considered ‘under hood’ components and purely functional (not visible), so therefore they didn’t require sanding, smoothing or any coatings. All the finishing team had to do is dip the parts.

“Speed was our main objective with this project,” added Hugh Tevelein, Objective3D Operations Manager. “We had to optimise everything we could to help Kenworth keep production moving. We worked to a 24-hour schedule with parts building overnight and then fitted to vehicles same day.”

The results

“Thanks to the capabilities and expertise of the Objective3D Direct Manufacturing facility and staff, we were able to produce end-use parts that allowed production to proceed unhindered, saving us from crippling delays,” says Dejong.

Objective3D Direct Manufacturing built 320 units over a seven-week period for Delphi until hard tooling was finished and ready to be incorporated into the production line. Putting production on hold for hard tooling modifications would have cost Kenworth millions of dollars and many unhappy customers. This just-in-time manufacturing solution allowed Kenworth to bring 320 vehicles to market on time and put into operation trucks that are vital to the economy. When there are bumps in the manufacturing road, engineers can count on 3D printing to maintain momentum and keep assemblies moving.

Australian PMI: Manufacturing slips into contraction after two years of growth

The Australian Industry Group Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (Australian PMI) fell 1.8 points to 49.5 in December, signalling the first mild contraction in manufacturing conditions in 26 months and the lowest result since August 2016.

The Australian PMI slipped below the critical 50-points threshold (that separates expansion from contraction) in December, bringing to an end a 26-month period of expansion – the longest since 2005. Six of the seven activity indexes in the Australian PMI fell in December, indicating generally weaker industry conditions.

“December 2018 saw the end of an extended period of manufacturing expansion after growth slowed in recent months,” said Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox. “The mild slowdown in manufacturing recorded in December adds to the picture of a softer closing quarter for 2018.

Five of the eight manufacturing sectors expanded in December (according to trend data), with growth led by the large food & beverages sector (down 0.7 points to 57.3). Respondents across the large metals (down 1.4 points to 47.7), machinery & equipment (down 0.6 points to 49.6) and chemicals (down 1.3 points to 49.7) sectors have reported a gradual slowing of demand throughout the second half of 2018.

“While the cornerstone food & beverage sector and the construction-related non-metallic mineral products sector both continued to expand, contractions in other large sectors – chemicals, metal products and machinery & equipment – dragged the Australian PMI fractionally into negative territory,” Willox continued.

The input prices index rose by 1.3 points to 76.3 in December, with energy-intensive sectors continuing to report problems with high gas and electricity prices. Meanwhile, the selling prices index fell into contraction (down 6.3 points to 44.1) for the first time since October 2017, indicating manufacturers have not been able to pass on their rising input costs to customers. After falling in the previous two months, the average wages index rebounded by 5.4 points to 64.2 in December, returning the index back above its historical average of 59.1.

“Production, exports and employment were all lower in the month while domestic sales were held up by discounting that saw a sharp drop in selling prices,” Willox added. “This, together with stronger wages growth and a lift in input prices, continued the squeeze on manufacturing margins.”

Revolutionising the market with 3D metal printing

Located on Sydney’s northern beaches, Raymax Applications has supplied innovative laser solutions to companies, universities, government departments and research institutes across Australia and New Zealand for over 25 years.

Lasers can be used for a myriad of tasks and situations: attached to a robot arm, or on the side of a bottling line, or inside a protective chamber for 3D printing metal parts. This wide variation in applications requires expert installation, support and training to ensure effective incorporation of the laser system. Sometimes, Raymax is presented with the challenge of a ‘never done before’ solution: a new application or use for a laser system.

“These are the challenges we love,” says John Grace, Managing Director of Raymax.“We not only get to apply our knowledge and skill, but we are giving the user an opportunity to do something they could never have done before, and that’s pretty satisfying for everyone.”

Lasers provide the opportunity to innovate, change and improve processes. For example, materials-processing applications such as welding, cutting and cladding in fields as diverse as consumer electronics, automotive manufacturing and defence, are now dominated by industrial lasers. This uptake changes traditional processes, influenced by the advantages of a more precise alternative to traditional processing.

In today’s fast-paced industrial and manufacturing sectors, demand for the latest technology has led Raymax into the realm of additive manufacturing (AM). By introducing laser cladding and welding systems with the installation of Laserline lasers, damaged parts can be repaired that are otherwise expensive to replace or take inordinate time to be delivered. Such economic advantages are being provided to mining and drilling operators, for aircraft part maintenance, in repair of generator turbine blades, and so on. Lasercladding has been shown not just to be an economical solution, but parts are proving far more robust that the original part, extending usable life.

Over the past three years Raymax has become the distributor of Europe’s leading 3D metal printing laser systems: SLM Solutions. SLM predicts that in Europe and the US, metal AM is set to revolutionise the automotive market; from high-performance racing cars to production vehicles, the benefits of design freedom and maximised functionality are increasing demand.

Terry Wohlers, a renowned commentator on 3D printing, emphasises the importance of design for AM (DfAM). Courses in this area are being offered in collaboration with RMIT in Melbourne, where four SLM laser systems are housed. Parts designed for conventional manufacturing are expensive to produce by AM. However, when parts are redesigned, benefits can be realised in terms of greater functionality, consolidation of assembly, inclusion of cooling channels, along with the benefit of using metals that offer reduced weight of the finished part.

Wohlers emphasises that one of the biggest barriers to the uptake of AM is the lack of knowledge and skills among the design and engineering workforce – a skills gap that needs filling quickly if manufacturers are to reap the benefits. Australia’s universities are filling an important role, providing research centres while offering testing facilities and application support to local industry as well as specific training.

“Our partnerships with universities is crucial to the introduction of new technology, particularly where it requires training and skills development,” says Grace. “Most major universities across the country offer access to SLM laser systems. Companies only have to ask!”

In the last decade we have witnessed a sudden advance of AM that continues as the technology available improves. 3D printing is already being applied in the aerospace and medical sectors, with SLM predicting the next big challenge will be the integration of selective laser melting technology into series production in the automotive industry. OEMs and Tier One suppliers focus on productivity and quality in their evaluation of the laser sintering process, as well as checking the final product or ‘built’ components. The SLM500 and SLM800 quad laser metal AM systems from SLM aim to satisfy these goals, with up to four 700W lasers offering high throughput.

According to SLM, the biggest advantage of laser sintering is the realisation of highly complex components, which cannot be produced cost-effectively with existing manufacturing processes. Small parts with significant complexity are highly suitable for 3D printing, but exciting developments are emerging in the automobile industry. Expert applications support from SLM aids in developing components optimised for selective laser melting, from prototype to production. For example, Audi is using metal AM with an SLM280HL purchased in 2016.

Reported as a ‘world first’ in the automotive industry, Bugatti Automobiles designed and 3D printed a titanium brake caliper for its new Chiron supercar. Offering considerable higher performance than aluminium with the alloy strength of titanium, the final geometrically complex component took 45 hours to build using an SLM500 machine. A total of 2,213 layers formed the structure, which on testing can stand 125kg per square millimetre pressure required for the Chiron braking system. Bugatti claims the final product is significantly stiffer and stronger than would have been possible using conventional processes. Prior to actually printing, three months were spent on design to optimise features, indicating the role and importance of DfAM.

At Audi, withi whom SLM continues to work closely, 3D metal printing is used to manufacture both prototypes and spare parts on demand. Audi’s vision is to ensure supply of original spare parts that can be built economically and sustainably in regional 3D metal printing centres, a whole new concept that would simplify logistics and reduce expensive warehousing.

“We acknowledge that 3D metal printing is disruptive technology, but laser systems bring manufacturing opportunities that may have never been possible in the past,” says Grace. “At times, challenges will arise, but we know by providing support and training to companies who have identified a way forward with 3D metal printing, local manufacturers and service providers will be well positioned to build a niche market and keep pace with the international AM sector.”