Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo Returns to Singapore
Phillip Keane posted on February 09, 2018 | 4455 views

The Inside3DPrinting conference and expo has returned to Singapore this week, hoping to lure industry experts and potential customers through its doors.

This was my fourth visit to the expo in Singapore, and every year it seems to be getting smaller. My first expo in 2014 was a full exhibition hall, plus a stage for speakers. This year’s exhibit appears to have been squeezed into a room smaller than the lobby.

But, on a positive note, the vendors all agreed that although the visitors were not queing around the block to get in, the quality of visitors was high, with most of the attendees being either employed in additive manufacturing research, or actually looking to spend some dough on hardware. In other words, real customers come to Inside3DPrinting Singapore—and not just window-shoppers or casual enthusiasts.That’s hardly surprising given the amount of money that Singapore has invested in 3D printing research.

Desktop Metal

I arrived at the expo just before lunch, so I was just in time to see Sean Looi (general manager of Creatz3D Pte Ltd) give his talk on Desktop Metal’s Bound Metal Deposition technology system.

Desktop Metal, as you may recall from this earlier article here, is a startup based in Burlington, Mass., which came out of stealth mode in 2017 to announce to the world that it had developed two desktop metal printer systems (hence the clever company name). The first of these models is dubbed the “Studio” and is 10x cheaper than traditional SLM systems, while the bigger version dubbed the “Production” model is 100x faster than traditional SLM.

Figure 1. You're gonna need a big desktop. The Desktop Metal Studio system printer on a desk—and next to a desk. (Image courtesy of Desktop Metal.)
Figure 1. You're gonna need a big desktop. The Desktop Metal Studio system printer on a desk—and next to a desk. (Image courtesy of Desktop Metal.)

Desktop Metal began shipping its three-piece Studio system to members of its “Pioneer” program in December 2017, so it’s early days in terms of the product rollout. Pioneer customers have included Google, Lumenium and the U.S. Navy.

Attendees were shown a presentation of how the systems work.

The Bound Metal Deposition technology system in the Desktop Metal Studio System works much like a traditional fused deposition modeling (FDM) system, except that instead of extruding plastic, it extrudes metal powder shaped into rods that are bound with wax and polymers. Because the powder is bound into rods, it is much safer and tidier than a normal powder-based system, and there is also significantly less waste.

Next, the green part is put into a debinding machine, and the binder is removed via immersion in a proprietary debinding fluid. This not only removes the binder but also opens up pores in the structure for the final phase of the process.

During the final phase, the part is placed into the third machine (the sintering machine), where the temperature is raised to just below the melting point, and thus sintering the molecules together. Apparently, part densities of 96-99.8 percent can be achieved using this method.

The Production system works a little bit differently. It is a two-piece system, as opposed to the Studio’s three-piece system.

The first piece (the printer) uses Single Pass Jetting, meaning that the printhead combines all of the processes into a single step (for each pass).

First, the powder is carefully metered on the print bed and compressed to form a layer. During the same pass, binder liquid is sprayed out of nozzles in the shape of the part layer. Then, anti-sintering agents are deposited, allowing the supports to fall away after the sintering is complete. Finally, a heater in the printhead dries the layer, and the cycle is complete. The cycle is then repeated for subsequent layers, until the part is complete.

Next, the parts are sent to the second unit, where they are sintered in a microwave-enhanced sintering system. This process removes any residual binder and densifies the part. And that’s all there is to it. The single-pass system reduces manufacturing time from hours to just minutes, and as mentioned, that reduction of processing time is some 100x faster than SLM systems.

You can see how the industrial-grade Production system manages to print so quickly in the animated video below.


Expo

After the Desktop Metal presentation, I decided to go back out into the expo to check out what was new.

As I mentioned previously, the expo in Singapore is pretty small these days, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there is now a greater diversity of systems, rather than having dozens of FDM salespeople telling me why their PLA machine is the best.

OK, so maybe there were a couple of salespeople. The truth is, the FDM market became so saturated during the hype phase during the last few years that the consumer market of FDM printers just turned around one day and asked, “So what”? FDM users have largely reached the trough of disillusionment. There are only so many cosplayers in the world.

RIZE

So, it was nice to see a new slant on the FDM printer, and I saw this in the RIZE printer featured at the expo.

Speaking to Miles Podmore, founder of Eye-2-Eye Communications Pte Ltd, a Singapore company dealing in the RIZE printer, I discovered that the RIZE focuses on printing only one single type of plastic filament.

“When bringing a new printer to market, you have two options,” explained Podmore. “You can either do the same thing, but cheaper, or you can introduce a product that delivers something that nobody else can.”

And so it is with the RIZE printer. Instead of going for the all-too-common jack of all trades (but master of none) approach that is common in the FDM world, RIZE has developed a printer that prints a single proprietary material, and does it very well.

Figure 2. The RIZE 3D printer.(Image courtesy of the author.)
Figure 2. The RIZE 3D printer.(Image courtesy of the author.)

Apparently, items printed by the RIZE require no post-processing. In addition to this, the printer is also capable of printing an ink onto parts. This ink serves two purposes. First, it acts as a buffer layer on support material, which prevents the subsequent layers from adhering to the layers beneath them. This means that you can easily remove support material with your bare hands afterwards (hence “no post-processing”). Second, because it’s an ink, it allows you to print batch numbers and other identifying marks onto your printed items.

Figure 3. Riziumplus ink. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Figure 3. Riziumplus ink. (Image courtesy of the author.)

With regard to the proprietary material (named “Rizium One”), it has the physical appearance of PLA in that it’s shiny, but more remarkably, it supposedly has a flexural strength that is nearly uniform in all directions. The product’s data sheet claims that it has 65MPa maximum flexural strength in both X and Y directions, and 61MPa in the Z direction. That’s pretty cool.

HP

Next up, I visited the Hewlett Packard printer stand.

HP is a regular at this event. The first time I visited the expo, the company was still in stealth mode regarding its printer. The second time I attended, the company had just announced that it had a 3D printer in development (with lots of hype). The third time I attended, the company was still hyping it up, and hadn’t released its printer to the public yet (but had some printed samples to play with).

So, this is the first time that HP has appeared at this event after the product has hit the market, and the items on display demonstrated a lot more creativity and usefulness this time around—likely because the printers are now in the hands of researchers and designers, who are letting their imaginations run free.

In Figure 4, you can see various robotic grippers and effectors. The cool thing about these parts is that they are pneumatically driven, and make use of the flexibility and toughness of the engineering-grade PA 12 thermoplastic that the HP Jet Fusion 3D printer uses for printing.

The item on the left in Figure 4 is a lateral actuator, which expands laterally when air pressure is applied through the hose (similar to a set of bellows). The item on the right of Figure 4 is a strange looking device indeed. Air is inserted into the connection seen at the top, and it flows into the spiral tubes. The pressure in the tubes then forces the effectors at the end to grip tight, due to the forces acting in the spirals. When the air is shut off, the effectors relax and open again. Very interesting. A design like this is only possible due to 3D printing.

Both units were designed to last for a minimum of 1,000,000 cycles, which is apparently not a problem for this type of plastic. I was asked not to disclose the cost of manufacturing these items, but I can tell you that they are very cheap, especially considering what they can do. A traditional grasper system would be manufactured with many moving parts and could be quite costly. That is not the case here. Both items shown in Figure 4 are made from at most two components each. It seems that HP 3D printer customers are moving into the slope of enlightenment as far as use cases are concerned. Expect to see more of this kind of thing in future.

Figure 4. Items printed with an HP 3D printer. Lateral actuator (left) and strange grasper (right). (Image courtesy of the author.)
Figure 4. Items printed with an HP 3D printer. Lateral actuator (left) and strange grasper (right). (Image courtesy of the author.)

BIOX Bioprinter

The final printer that grabbed my attention is the BIO X bioprinter from CELLINK. I know absolutely nothing about biology, so I won’t pretend to know what I’m talking about here, except to say that this product hadits Singapore launch at this event.

Going from the specs sheet, I can tell you that it’s the most “user friendly bioprinter in the world”; it contains three syringes (as opposed to the two on the previous model);it has intelligent printheads capable of printing a range of materials such as heart cells, skin, cartilage or bone;and is capable of “aseptic printing” thanks to its dual filtered positive air pressure print chamber.

What I can say with some certainty, is that it’s a nice looking machine from a product design point of view, as you can see from the images in Figure 5. You can find out more about this machine at this link.

Figure 5.BIO X Bioprinter, which has a nice design. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Figure 5.BIO X Bioprinter, which has a nice design. (Image courtesy of the author.)
That’s all from this year’s Inside3DPrinting event in Singapore. Ta-ta!


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