Look for 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) to play a bigger role at next year’s National Plastics Exposition than it has in past NPEs.
Most important will be the American launch of the Arburg FreeFormer (called AKF), which was introduced originally at K2013 to a stunned press gathering on the eve of the show’s opening. Arburg, a powerhouse in the world of small to mid-sized injection
molding machines, developed a unique approach that combines an inkhead printer with a feed system based on pellets and not filaments. As a result, standard plastics can be used.
Arburg has been slowly improving the technology and rolling out the machine to select beta sites. The FreeFormer does not target the “maker” crowd—it will be priced at a comparable level to one of its small injection molding machines. The target is companies that want to produce small production runs of complex parts without investing in an injection mold. Designs that are subject to changes are good candidates. The FreeFormer provides a way to get a product on the market very quickly.
3D Systems, an important manufacturer, is not scheduled at this time to have a booth at NPE2015 (March 23-27, Orlando, Florida). It’s not clear why given the number of injection molders, OEM buyers and design engineers who will attend the excellent triennial show. Stratasys and its RedEye service arm are scheduled to exhibit at the show through NPE3D, which will have a special exhibit area. Stratasys (FDM and Objet) is arguably the most important player in 3D printing.
At least two other 3D service providers will be exhibiting, including Linear Mold & Engineering of Livonia, Michigan, which will target mold makers with what is described as the largest capability in North America to produce 3D printed metal parts.
Linear recently announced an expansion that will make room for eight additional direct metal laser melting machines, as well as allow for expanded mold manufacturing to include CNC machining centers, EDM and a gun drilling machine. The company now operates a total of four EOS M270 3D metal printing systems, three EOS M280 3D metal printing systems, and two SLM 280 systems.
Using the direct metal laser melting technology, Linear designs and builds 3D printed conformal cooling channels for injection molds. However, the company feels its biggest growth will be the production of components for the automotive, aerospace and energy industries.
Also exhibiting at NPE2015 will be a San Diego company called Forecast 3D, which offers SLA (stereolithography) models, PolyJet color 3D printing, FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) patterns in engineering grade thermoplastics, CNC Machining, and its flagship ProCast RTV tooling low volume urethane castings. Urethane casting is the pre-3D printing gold standard of rapid prototypes.
There will also be at least six talks on 3D printing at NPE2015. Lou Young, Linear’s business development director of tooling & manufacturing, is scheduled to speak on 3D printing for conformal cooling lines in molds. Nadav Sella, solutions sales manager for Stratasys will speak on “3D printing offers a giant step for short run injection molds”. A SABIC scientist will discuss 3D printing with high-performance plastics.
NPE3D will be sponsored by PolyOne, which offers design services for 3D printing and is working on advanced materials capabilities. Announced a year ago, NPE3D is expected to be held annually.