3D Systems Makes Slew of Announcements Ahead of formnext
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 08, 2017 | 2707 views

Ahead of formnext, 3D Systems proved that it is delivering on the vision proposed by its new CEO, Vyomesh Joshi, by making a series of new announcements, including important new machines for industrial production. There’s a ton of news to break down, so let’s get to it.

Figure 4

Since its unveiling in 2016, 3D Systems’ Figure 4 has held a lot of promise for a company that suffered under its previous leadership. The new machine and the company’s new CEO suggest that 3D Systems is reevaluating its place in the world of 3D printing with a focus on industrial production. 3D Systems has released further news about its Figure 4 modular 3D printing system, including the various configurations, releases and prices.

Named after a drawing in a 1983 patent filed by 3D Systems Founder and Chief Technology Officer Chuck Hull, Figure 4 is a quick printing digital light processing (DLP) system. The technology casts light onto a photosensitive resin, printing objects in a layerless fashion, allowing for 15 times the throughput of comparable technologies at a 20 percent reduction in costs. Paired with robotic arms, Figure 4 can be highly automated, with the arms moving finished prints to post-processing and quality control stations.

Figure 4 is a modular system that combines quick printing with automated technologies, such as material handling and post-processing, for factory-oriented production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
Figure 4 is a modular system that combines quick printing with automated technologies, such as material handling and post-processing, for factory-oriented production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

The system is available in a variety of configurations, ranging from a stand-alone system for $25,000 to a highly customized system for over $1 million. These systems are available in four models targeted at industries such as healthcare and aerospace.

The Figure 4 Production is a scalable solution designed for in-line production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The Figure 4 Production is a scalable solution designed for in-line production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

Designed for in-line production, the Figure 4 Production is a completely customizable and automated system with automation features such as automated material delivery and integrated post-processing.

The Figure 4 Modular is meant for printing multiple unique parts, with a centralized post-processing solution. It includes automated material handling, but a manual post-processing station for cleaning, drying and curing. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The Figure 4 Modular is meant for printing multiple unique parts, with a centralized post-processing solution. It includes automated material handling, but a manual post-processing station for cleaning, drying and curing. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

Managed from a master control unit, the Figure 4 Modular is meant for producing multiple unique parts at once, and includes automated material handling and centralized, manual post-processing.

The Figure 4 Standalone stands alone, with manual material handling and post-processing. However, as with all Figure 4 configurations, this system is scalable. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The Figure 4 Standalone stands alone, with manual material handling and post-processing. However, as with all Figure 4 configurations, this system is scalable. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

The Figure 4 Standalone is, as it sounds, a single-engine setup meant for low volume production and prototyping. The Figure 4 Dental, which is also a single-engine system, is designed for use with 3D Systems’ biocompatible materials portfolio.

All of the machines feature the company’s 3D Sprint and 3D Connect software. 3D Sprint is used for print prep, including placement and supports. For status reports and preventative maintenance, 3D Connect is made up of 3D Connect Service, which allows users to schedule regular maintenance with 3D Systems for the machines, and 3D Connect Manage, a secure and remote monitoring program for single or fleets of Figure 4 machines.

Along with the machine configurations, 3D Systems is also launching 15 materials—such as prototyping, clear, tough, elastic and high temperature resins—geared toward industrial and dental applications. Compared to other continuous DLP technologies, such as Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) from Carbon, there is no need for a secondary heat curing process.

Interestingly, Figure 4 was unveiled about a year after Carbon’s technology and, while Carbon made clear the speed and material implications of its technology for a production setting, 3D Systems was already showcasing the possibilities of Figure 4 upon its demonstration. With automated material handling and post-processing, not only is Figure 4 fast, like Carbon’s technology, but it requires less manual intervention, making it ideal for the factory floor.

Carbon is in the process of releasing similar automated solutions for DLS, including material handling and post-processing. It’s possible that, by the time Figure 4 actually hits the market, Carbon will have its own in-line production solution as well.

Manufactured in part by Sanmina, the Figure 4 machines will be released throughout 2018, with the Figure 4 Production and Dental systems available in Q2 and the Modular and Standalone systems available in Q3. Sanmina will also be working with 3D Systems to expand 3D printing within its own global manufacturing service operations. To learn more about Figure 4, visit the 3D Systems website.

Modular, Automated Metal 3D Printing

Under its previous CEO, Avi Reichental, many of 3D Systems’ vast multitude of acquisitions seemed to languish. Among them was French metal 3D printer manufacturer Phenix Systems. While the company was able to release new metal 3D printers as a result of this acquisition, Reichental’s vision was consumer focused, leading him to pursue flashier, yet less immediately practical products, such as the ChefJet sugar 3D printer and the CeraJet ceramics system.

The DMP 8500 competes directly with Concept Laser’s technology, with a bigger build volume and automated modules. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The DMP 8500 competes directly with Concept Laser’s technology, with a bigger build volume and automated modules. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

Under its newer CEO and HP veteran, Vyomesh Joshi, the company is much more focused, with a laser site on industrial production. Along with news of the production-grade Figure 4 system, 3D Systems also announced the development of the DMP 8500 Factory Solution, which the company describes as “the first truly scalable, automated and fully integrated metal additive manufacturing solution.” With a build volume of 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm, the system is still somewhat smaller than GE Additive/Concept Laser’s X LINE 2000R, the largest metal powder bed fusion 3D printer at 800 x 400 x 500mm.

With the largest build volume of any powder bed fusion metal 3D printer, the DMP 8500 is designed for mass production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
With the largest build volume of any powder bed fusion metal 3D printer, the DMP 8500 is designed for mass production. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

The DMP 8500 is a modular solution, in that it is made up of several different systems that make up an automated workflow. The Printer Modules feature three lasers (compared to the X LINE 2000R’s two) for increased productivity. The Removable Print Modules (RPMs) are sealed modules meant for transporting power to the printers or parts from the printers. The Powder Management Modules de-powder parts on the build platforms and then automatically recycle unused powder for subsequent jobs. Tying all of these elements together are the Transport Modules, which move the RPMs between the printer and powder modules.

The factory-style implementation of the modular DMP8500 platform bears a striking resemblance to Concept Laser’s Factory of the Future vision illustrated below. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The factory-style implementation of the modular DMP8500 platform bears a striking resemblance to Concept Laser’s Factory of the Future vision illustrated below. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

To augment its overall metal 3D printing line, 3D Systems added LaserForm Maraging Steel (A), which can be machined, welded and hardened for use in injection molding and tooling.Along with the new metal, a new parameter set license for LaserForm metals was released. These Extra High Productivity Parameters for LaserForm Ti Gr5 (A) and Ti Gr23 (A) can be licensed for a 30 percent reduction in build time, while maintaining highly consistent and repeatable part quality.

News of the DMP 8500 is particularly interesting when compared to the vision of Concept Laser, before and after its acquisition by GE Additive. Concept Laser is working toward developing its “Factory of the Future” concept, which bears a striking resemblance to 3D Systems’ new solution.

This is a vision for the AM Factory of Tomorrow, wherein multiple machines are aligned in such a way as to allow for mass manufacturing of 3D-printed parts. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
This is a vision for the AM Factory of Tomorrow, wherein multiple machines are aligned in such a way as to allow for mass manufacturing of 3D-printed parts. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

So far, powder handling, printing and part removal stations have been unveiled by Concept Laser, but the company previously published videos in which automated transport modules would cart around finished parts and new powders to create a 24/7, lights-out factory.

The DMP 8500 is planned for release in Q4 2018. By then, or even later this week and next at the formnext show, Concept Laser may have expanded on its vision, so that 3D Systems will have to compete against GE with its technology.

Regardless, we know which direction the industry is heading. It’s also heartening to see a company with the most diverse technology portfolio in the industry, 3D Systems, begin to reshape itself into a leading company once again.

To learn more about the DMP 8500, visit the 3D Systems website.

The ProX SLS 6100

Along with the potentially more exciting announcements of its metal 3D printing and Figure 4 technologies, 3D Systems has also added to its line of selective laser sintering (SLS) systems with the ProX SLS 6100, which is designed for large parts.

According to 3D Systems, the system is “aggressively priced.” It features automated material handling with a material quality control system that includes continuous automatic sifting and filtering. An air-cooled laser removes the need for a chiller, lowering the cost and increasing the efficiency of the system.The company also suggests that the ProX SLS 6100 has “the highest resolution and edge definition of any SLS system.”

A part printed with the ProX SLS 6100. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
A part printed with the ProX SLS 6100. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

To boost the capabilities of the larger 3D Systems SLS line are a number of new materials, as well. These include the flame-retardant DuraForm ProX FR1200, which meets the flame retardancy requirements of the aerospace industry for interior cabin parts. The durable DuraForm ProX EX BLK is a nylon-11-based material made from renewable, non-petrochemical resources that can be used to replace ABS and polypropylene. DuraForm ProX AF+ is an aluminum- and mineral-filled nylon 12 for stiff, heat resistant parts that will face heavy loads.

Like the Figure 4 platform, the ProX SLS 6100 features 3D Sprint software for print prep and 3D Connect, for preventative maintenance and print monitoring. To learn more, visit the 3D Systems website.

Back to the Desktop

Though 3D Systems shelved its consumer division, Cubify, at the end of 2015, the company is revisiting the desktop 3D printer space with the new FabPro 1000, described as an “entry-level production printer.”

The FabPro 1000 isn’t marketed as a return to consumer 3D printing, but instead as an entry-level professional 3D printer. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The FabPro 1000 isn’t marketed as a return to consumer 3D printing, but instead as an entry-level professional 3D printer. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

Targeted at engineers, designers, jewelry makers and makers, the system seems to either be a stereolithography (SLA) or DLP system that is priced at less than $5,000. According to the company, the system is four times faster than competing machines.

A Contract with BMW

Lending confidence to the company’s new direction and leadership, 3D Systems announced a new three-year contract with BMW. The automaker will be leveraging 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing services to 3D print design and functional prototype parts.

The partnership will primarily use SLA and DLP, in addition to 3D Systems’ painting, dying, tumbling and other finishing services, to create interior and exterior automobile test parts, as well as tools and fixtures. The parts will be included in summer and winter rideout testing for fit and functionality in extreme heat and cold.

Correction 11/13/17: This article previously stated that 3D Systems' new metal 3D printer is larger than GE Additive's XLine 2000R, which is incorrect. 

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