The message from the capital of 3D Printing: rethinking development and production
Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D 2017 highlighted the paradigm shift caused by Additive Manufacturing
Erfurt. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is rapidly gaining ground in everyday industrial life and is bringing major changes with it. This was made clear to great effect at the Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D Specialist Conference and trade show from 20 to 22 June 2017 at Messe Erfurt. With a record number of 4,800 conference and trade show visitors (4,500 in 2016) and 207 exhibitors (176 in 2016), the 14th edition of this combination – unique among German trade shows – was a testament to the enormous innovative potential of this promising key technology.
Presentations of world firsts, such as the first industrial 3D printer for silicone by Wacker, or the first realisable metal filament print by Evo-Tech, underlined Erfurt’s international significance as a platform for the AM world. This was further reinforced by the appearances of market and technology leaders such as 3D Systems, Concept Laser, EOS, Stratasys and Trumpf Laser- und Systemtechnik, as well as the presence of global players such as Bosch, Procter & Gamble and Siemens among the visitors. The central element of the event was, once again, the Rapid.Tech Specialist Conference with its Users Conference and ten other industry or technology-specific trade forums, designed by 93 speakers from nine countries across Europe and overseas.
“Erfurt has defended its title as the capital of 3D Printing. The key part of this is the combination of Specialist Conference and trade show – a format that doesn’t exist anywhere else. We have confirmed this time and time again in discussions with exhibitors and visitors, both domestic and international, and that is why we are continuing to build on this special format,” says Michael Kynast, CEO of Messe Erfurt GmbH. The Chairmen of the Advisory Board, Michael Eichmann (Stratasys GmbH) and Professor Gerd Witt (University of Duisburg-Essen), also confirmed the event has increased in professionalism and internationalism: “You could see this in the quality of the conference, with prominent speakers who represented the entire range of the technology in their lectures, in a very knowledgeable audience, and not least in the attractively designed booths – these were a clear marker of how the fair has grown in size by nearly a quarter compared to last year. For anyone who’s anyone in the world of 3D Printing, Erfurt is not to be missed. It was primarily the keynote speakers who demonstrated most impressively what has already been achieved in the industry and where the journey is taking us.”
This high-profile line-up of speakers was headed by none other than the inventor of 3D Printing, Charles “Chuck” Hull from the United States. In 1983, it was he who made the first three-dimensional printed part, setting in motion a revolution that is now achieving its breakthrough.
Accordingly, one of the insights in his presentation on the emergence of innovations was that developments have to be ground-breaking and forward-looking, and that it often takes a long time before they catch on. The engineer has proven this staying power over 34 years of ongoing innovative work, demonstrated in part by 2,000 patents. He confirmed that pioneering new developments can and should be converted into market opportunities, using the company he co-founded in 1986, 3D Systems, as an example. Today, he employs more than 2,500 staff at 45 locations around the world and has so far brought seven different printers and three software platforms to market. 3D Systems presented their latest innovation in Erfurt: Figure 4 technology automates the AM process all along the value chain. Components can be produced extremely quickly and efficiently, from inputting the 3D design data to the finished product. This system can produce 40 custom dental crowns in ten minutes, for example.
Speed is also the main reason why Swiss Formula 1 team Sauber turned to Additive Manufacturing in 2004, and has been building up its own stock of machinery for it since 2007. 70 per cent of the annual performance increase of a Formula 1 racing car comes from aerodynamics. In the keynote speech on the second day, Steffen Schrodt and Christoph Hansen of Sauber Aerodynamik AG demonstrated just how important producing parts using AM has become for tests in wind tunnels and on circuits. The wind tunnel engineers revealed that, thanks to 24/6 Additive Manufacturing, the company is making around 40,000 parts – primarily of fibre-reinforced plastics – for both their own use and for third parties. For example, a cooler that would traditionally take around three to five days to produce can now be built in one to two days using additive methods. Sauber is currently taking the next step and investing in 3D metal manufacturing. Together with Dutch partners Additive Industries B.V., they are building a dedicated production centre whose first phase is due to begin operations in autumn 2017.
GE Manager Sean Keith made the paradigm shift associated with AM the focus of his keynote speech, which opened the third day of the conference. The engineer, who is responsible for the newly created GE Additive division, postulated that you have to forget everything that you know about design and engineering from the last 60 years: the rules have been completely rewritten. Sean Keith demonstrated how GE, a technology leader in aviation, is rethinking and implementing development and production using examples of engine applications. They succeeded in compressing a turbine housing, which was traditionally made from 300 parts from 50 suppliers with 40 different data systems, down to one single part that is made by just one supplier. But this does not mean that AM is a job killer, he said. Rather, jobs in the supply chain are changing, for example in favour of material development and production. Challenges in software, digital economy, mechatronics and electronic engineering also need to be overcome, and many professionals will be needed for this.
Representatives from business, science and politics discussed what new approach is required here when it comes to qualifications. The call went out from Erfurt for 3D Printing to be integrated into every stage of learning, from school, vocational training and university courses to professional development programmes. 150 companies and institutions signed a petition to this end that was handed to a representative of the conference of education ministers.
Completely rethinking processes and using design – now freed from production limits by AM – for ground-breaking products, such as viable printed human organs, and for economic and sustainable production also set the tone at the Users Conference, as well as at the Trade Forums 3D Metal Printing, Contract Additive Manufacturing, AM Science, Automotive Industry, Electronic Engineering, Design, Aviation, Medical Technology, and Tool, Mould and Fixture Making as well as the Forum of the Fraunhofer Additive Manufacturing Alliance.
New companies and prominent players in the 3D Printing community also offered up creative ideas at FabCon 3.D in Erfurt. Swiss firm UrbanAlps AG presented their 3D printed duplication-proof key, the first of its kind in the world, for which the company won 1st prize in the Start-Up Award. The 3D Pioneers Challenge was held for the second time, with prize winners honoured for their innovative 3D Printing applications in five different categories.
The 15th Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D will take place from 5 to 7 June 2018 in Erfurt.