Last updateSun, 19 May 2024 8pm

Formnext 2023: Cooperations and innovations paired with sustainability and new sizes

Fifty per cent of the 32,851 visitors were international specialists and managers. This represents an 11.1 per cent increase on the previous year - figures that other industries could only wish for. At 859, the number of exhibitors in Frankfurt was also higher than in previous years. By Sabine Slaughter

The trade fair for additive manufacturing was once again the centre of attraction for the industry this year. Everyone who is anyone came to Frankfurt to inspect new production methods and technologies. The application possibilities in the various sectors have multiplied in recent years, many projects can now only be realised with additive manufacturing and integration into existing and new production lines is making great strides.
Automation has a high priority in the manufacturing industry. Industry 4.0 - a term coined in the pre-pandemic era - has long since become Industry 5.0 and more. End-to-end automation of all process steps is a must for manufacturers. Conventional and additive manufacturing are already shaking hands in many cases. But purely additive production lines are not the only trend. The integration of additive manufacturing processes into existing lines is becoming the norm and the qualification of components is progressing at a breathtaking pace.
However, this speed also means that the industry is at a turning point - from a niche technology to a reliable, recognised and proven production technology that can also have a positive impact on sustainability. The diversity of applications, be it in machine, vehicle, aircraft and even rocket construction, in medical technology or in the field of architecture and especially in nanotechnology, ensures that no branch of industry is excluded from additive manufacturing.
No matter which hall you entered, it was teeming with visitors, exhibitors and, above all, a spirit of optimism that was unrivalled. The geopolitical situation, economic conditions, high dynamics and automation efforts in all branches of industry, coupled with increased sustainability requirements, are not only leading to an increasing number of collaborations. The consolidation phase in additive manufacturing has begun and companies are positioning themselves more broadly in terms of technologies in order to tap into new markets and respond more individually to customer requirements.
The additive manufacturing industry in particular has always been characterised by a great willingness to cooperate. To put it metaphorically: The wheel is not reinvented, but the company that can print wheels will join forces with a company that produces brake systems or brakes for a project. A third partner then takes care of the axle suspension, a fourth for the engine, the next for the interior and so on. The goal of building a vehicle is then realised jointly by all cooperation partners. This ability to bundle core competences, recognise and protect patents and thus enable growth opportunities for all participants has been a unique feature of the industry to date. The extent to which the current consolidation phase will make this possible in the future will become apparent in the coming months and years.
But now to the trends. Automation has already been mentioned, including robot-based printing systems, feeding and unloading. One of the goals of companies was to automate a workflow from design through to printing, post-processing and dispatch as far as possible. This includes dovetailing individual production steps, including the integration of conventional manufacturing processes, into a workflow that is as seamless as possible.
It is therefore no wonder that many software companies are now also involved in additive manufacturing with varying degrees of automation. Some only cover the active printing area, while others cover the generic side of the components in advance, the material properties and their effects or even the entire production process, including checking and certifying the individual productions. Work is also being done on web-to-part and web-to-series in order to ensure the smoothest possible order placement and production.
Big, bigger...
The size of machines has been increased many times over. Whereas in recent years only a few companies had XXL-scale machines in their portfolio, this number has more than doubled. Especially in the field of plastic materials, the number has more than doubled. This makes it possible, for example, to print entire boats, functional components or even highly complex moulds.
This trend also applies to the field of metal printing. Large components such as rocket engines and railway carriage side parts, either highly complex or weighing several tonnes, can now be produced in one piece. Additive manufacturing is a more cost-effective, usually faster and more effective technology solution, especially for the customised production of highly complex bespoke and spare parts that do not need to be produced in large quantities.
In the medical sector and for electronic components, size is also often important. However, the focus here is often on components that are as small as possible. How can certain substances be delivered to predetermined locations in the body that cannot be reached with conventional technology? What possibilities are there to make keyhole operations even safer and smaller, to make the tools more effective but at the same time minimise them so that the surrounding tissue or organs can be protected? Can chronic diseases or long-term medication be influenced or administered using micro- or nanotechnology? These are all questions that additive manufacturing companies in the medical sector, usually in collaboration or co-operation with universities, medical institutes and hospitals, are trying to solve in the most patient-friendly way possible.
This highly topical subject was addressed by all exhibitors. In addition to the material manufacturers, who not only pay close attention to all aspects of sustainability when extracting the individual components, this topic is also very popular with users and interested parties. How can components be "dismantled" and the individual components disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way possible? To what extent are there developments and technologies that reduce and avoid harmful VOCs, gases and impacts during production? Can recyclable materials be used? These are some of the key questions that concern companies.
"The development of Formnext is impressive every year," says Sascha F. Wenzler, Vice President Formnext at the organiser Mesago Messe Frankfurt GmbH. "The high density of innovations, decision-makers and AM experts was unrivalled and made for a unique trade fair experience. Together with our hugely dynamic industry, Formnext shows the way for the future development of cutting-edge manufacturing industries."
Here are some of the exhibits, news and developments that were on show at Formnext:
6K Additive
6K Additive and Metal Powder Works announce strategic partnership to bring pure copper, copper alloy and bronze AM powders to the market. Both companies' sustainable production technologies will be utilised to produce spherical powders. The high yield that can be achieved with Metal Powder Works' DirectPowder process and 6K Additive's UniMelt microwave plasma will provide economic benefits, faster time to market and sustainable production in both the generation of raw materials and the manufacturing of these materials.
Boston Micro Fabrication
BMF is active in the field of microtechnology. 3D-printed dental veneers, for example, are three times thinner and more durable than conventional products. The cosmetic dental veneers are 3D-printed to customer specifications using BMF's projection micro stereolithography (PµSL).
BMF also presented the microArch S 350, a printer that offers a resolution of 25 µm (micrometres). The microArch S350 is based on BMF's patented PµSL technology (projection micro stereolithography). This technology enables the rapid photopolymerisation of liquid polymer layers using a UV light flash with micro-precise resolution. With a build volume of 100 x 100 x 50 millimetres and fewer projection zones, the printing system achieves a high printing speed that is just as noticeable in the production environment as in the laboratory, both for micro-scale parts with high-resolution features and for small components that require high accuracy or precision. "BMF has become the industry leader in printing small and microscopic parts that require high resolution, accuracy and precision in the 2 micron and 10 micron range. Now we are bringing that expertise to an even broader range of end-use applications in the 25 micron range," said John Kawola, CEO of BMF. "While this printer is geared more toward industrial customers who require faster throughput, higher volume and more automation, the result is best-in-class part quality compared to other DLP platforms. We can't wait to see what our customers achieve with it."
Carbon 3D
The company is expanding its platform with the new customisable high-performance elastomer EPU 46. In addition to material properties, durability and colour options, the degree of hardness can be individually defined. Saddles, shoes or grips can be produced with it. It offers customers the opportunity to fine-tune the stiffness of the material without compromising printability or changing the material properties. In addition, EPU 46 further advances Carbon's sustainability efforts as the elastomer contains 40 percent bio-based material and is designed for solvent-free spin cleaning and resin recovery to minimise production waste.
Create it Real
Create it Real's position was actually more in the background: founded in 2009, the software developer from Aalborg in the north of Denmark supplied numerous manufacturers of 3D printers with "white label slicers" for around ten years and had established itself on the market. "Slicers have always been part of our DNA," explains Gay, founder and CTO. Starting from this basis, he and his twelve colleagues at the time had the idea of offering even more and opened a new chapter in the company's history: "We focussed more on applications and developed a technology to produce programmable foam," explains Jeremie Gay. This allows areas with different hardnesses to be produced in one component using the same material. Among other things, this has resulted in insoles - "and not prototypes, but end products". Other products for which the company has developed a special production solution include seats (e.g. for wheelchairs, office chairs or car seats) and corsets.
Using Equispheres' NExP-1 AM powder, with its safe storage and handling properties, researchers at SDU have successfully printed aluminium parts using Xact Metal's high quality, low cost XM200G metal 3D printer. The benefits of additive manufacturing are becoming accessible to more and more companies through the combination of a specially developed powder for metal AM and printing machines designed to make 3D printing more accessible. "The barriers to the spread of metal AM are falling. This project shows that there are options that make additive manufacturing available to manufacturers wherever and whenever it makes sense for a particular application," says Evan Butler-Jones, Vice-President - Product & Strategy at Equispheres.
Evolve Additive
The new Step Parts Now parts production service has been launched in response to demand in production and Evolve's desire to expand access to its Selective Thermoplastic Electrophotographic Process (Step) technology. Step is the only additive manufacturing (AM) process on the market that offers the accuracy, surface finish and material properties required for reliable and repeatable printing of end-use parts at scale. Step Parts Now complements the availability of parts orders through Evolve's strategic partners and their STEP production centres: Fathom Digital Manufacturing, based in the US, and alphacam GmbH, based in Germany. "What we're launching with STEP Parts Now is much more than parts as a service," says Jeff Hanson, Senior Vice President of Go-to-Market at Evolve. "We are improving accessibility to a newly identified additive manufacturing technology category that finally fulfils the industry's promise of materials, features and scalability through additive manufacturing for real production."

The company presented its FS621M and Flight SS403P-2 production platforms, which use powder bed fusion technology. Farsoon's 403P series system is the high-temperature plastic powder bed fusion platform with over 260 units installed worldwide. Compared to machines with a single CO2 laser, the Flight 403P dual laser system can increase productivity by 3-4 times and realise two complete build volumes (cylinder size 400 × 400 × 540 mm) within 24 hours.
The fully automated Fuse Blast SLS post-processing solution completes the Formlabs Fuse Series ecosystem, while a range of software enhancements accelerate print setup, printing, pre- and post-processing. The Fuse Blast delivers cleaning and surface smoothing within one system and features an automated drum that cleans and removes semi-sintered or loose powder from parts without manual intervention. It also includes an in-line ioniser that prevents the re-deposition of dust to deliver tangibly clean parts every time.
The growing portfolio of photopolymer resins with three new materials was presented. These can be used to print both prototypes and end products. Loctite 3D IND3380 is a speciality resin with electrostatic dissipative properties (ESD) and a high heat deflection temperature (HDT) of 190°C, offering excellent stiffness, precision and versatility. Loctite 3D IND5714 is a grey elastomeric resin with a high resilience and excellent resistance to cyclic loads. A low Shore hardness combined with excellent compression behaviour and good tear resistance makes this material ideal for industrial applications. Loctite 3D MED9851 is a high performance medical grade resin with excellent mechanical tensile and flexural properties. The strength combined with the impact resistance and transparent appearance make this material ideal for a wide range of medical applications.
The company has announced a new software suite designed to help manufacturers adopt additive manufacturing on an industrial scale by ensuring scalability, reliability and repeatability of their AM processes. The "HxGN Additive Manufacturing Suite" is based on Hexagon's many years of experience in additive manufacturing and machine shop production. It enables efficient part design, reverse engineering of products and CAD-independent model preparation in DESIGNER, Hexagon's CAD solution for manufacturing. In addition, build preparation for each metal Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) AM printer is performed with highly efficient support structures and world-class slicing and hatching with AM STUDIO. Supporting manufacturers to quickly estimate costs, identify manufacturing issues and optimise workflows, print strategies and build orientation in Simufact Additive will be improved. Helping to ensure highly optimised, accurate and efficient CNC post-processing of AM metal parts with Hexagon's ESPRIT EDGE, which uses artificial intelligence and is based on digital twin technology.
Chuck Mathews, General Manager, Manufacturing Software at Hexagon, says: "Additive manufacturing is a technology on the cusp of industrial adoption, ready to be utilised on a larger scale to produce high-quality parts for critical applications across a range of industries. This new suite provides manufacturers with the capabilities and tools to increase the use of additive technologies through optimised workflows that make the AM process more efficient, scalable and reliable. Thanks to Hexagon's Additive Manufacturing Suite, manufacturers can now use AM to produce on time, on budget and at scale."

HP has entered into a strategic partnership with Indo-Mim. The co-operation is an important step towards advancing metal AM technology and expanding its applications across a range of industries. INDO-MIM has initially invested in three HP Metal Jet S100 printers as part of this collaboration, underlining its commitment to the industry. INDO-MIM will also become a certified partner of HP's Digital Manufacturing Network (DMN), a network of leading manufacturers serving international markets. Two of the three printers are located at INDO-MIM's plant in Bangalore, India. The company uses one of these HP Metal Jet printers to develop new materials and the second for new applications. HP and INDO-MIM are not only expanding their additive manufacturing capabilities, but are also jointly developing new HP Metal Jet materials such as M2 tool steel.
A strategic partnership was also concluded with Materialise. Collaborations with BMW and Decathlon were also presented. HP is working with material partners to develop more sustainable materials with high reusability. Together with Arkema, HP is developing bio-based materials made from renewable castor oil and utilising biomethane to further reduce its carbon footprint. Together with Evonik, HP is focussing even more on sustainability with the development of 3D High Reusability PA12. By using renewable energy in its production, the material can help reduce the carbon footprint of the commonly used PA12 material by 49 per cent without changing its properties.
Hybrid software
The Cloudflow Maker workflow software for additive manufacturing solutions for binders and material jetting on an industrial scale was introduced. The solution is based on OPC UA standards and ensures interaction with all connected devices and machines. The software is fully API-based and offers seamless connections with all other systems - recognising the fact that there is no "one solution for everything". Decades of experience in jetting the right drop in the right place is just one thing; industrial printing software is about the ability to provide fast, secure and modular solutions as well as customer-centric support, maintenance and upgrades." Hybrid Software can draw on two other sources. Firstly, parent company Hybrid Software Group has Meteor Inkjet, the world's largest supplier of printhead electronics for binder jetting. The combination of Meteor hardware with Hybrid's own software guarantees a direct, secure data stream from CAD to the print head.
Additive Manufacutring Industrialisation Navigator (AM I Navigator) initiative
Siemens, DyeMansion, HP, BASF Forward AM and EOS navigate AM users through the complex landscape of additive manufacturing, providing additive manufacturing (AM) users with personalised guidance and a comprehensive approach to navigate the complexity of the evolving landscape of industrial 3D printing. The holistic maturity model maps the stages of industrialisation in the AM industry and increases interoperability in additive manufacturing. The model defines the stages of industrial 3D printing along the entire process chain from material to machine to automation. Furthermore, creating a common understanding of the different stages helps AM users to find ways to scale and integrate additive manufacturing into traditional production workflows.
In addition to MATSUURA machine tools and its own additive metal hybrid machines of the Lumex series, the HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers and the finishing systems from DyeMansion, MATSUURA now also offers 3D printers of the Sinterit brand The SLS 3D printers "Lisa X" of the Sinterit brand will be distributed in Germany by Matsuura in the future. The in-house additive hybrid machines of the LUMEX series are suitable for the production of high-precision metal components, while the HP Multi Jet Fusion printers cover the demand for machines for the industrial production of functional plastic parts. The post-processing systems from DyeMansion offer a complete and fully integrated end-to-end solution for all post-processing steps.
Nikon SLM Solutions
Nikon SLM Solutions and Materialise announce a collaboration to develop the next generation of Materialise build processors (BP) tailored for Nikon SLM Solutions printers that seamlessly integrate with Materialise's CO-AM platform. As manufacturers increasingly transition to additive manufacturing (AM) of end-use metal components, the demand for improved part quality, competitive pricing and rapid production is paramount. This collaboration offers manufacturers within the open Nikon SLM architecture the opportunity to add a high level of autonomy to their 3D printing processes.
The provider of a decentralised 3D printing platform makes its material expertise available and thus simplifies industrial use. Careful and competent material selection is crucial for the feasibility of AM projects. Until now, however, this has been a manual and laborious research process. With Replique's material database, users can now benefit from a user-friendly platform that enables them to select the ideal material for their individual applications. This not only saves time and costs, but also ensures the quality of the additively manufactured component in terms of material requirements. The features of the material database include various filter options, such as technical data, standards and fields of application.
With a focus on innovation and sustainability, the company is redefining the energy landscape. According to Roboze, the advanced materials and technologies ensure reduced operating costs. The systems are more efficient, require less maintenance and have a lower total cost of ownership, which helps to optimise company balance sheets in the energy sector. Choosing the right material is crucial in the energy sector, where reliability and performance are essential. Roboze has developed advanced materials that fulfil these requirements.
The ARGO 1000 is the largest pellet-based 3D printer equipped with a chamber heated up to 180 degrees Celsius to quickly produce large-format parts from incredibly strong superpolymers and composites. Thanks to its large working volume - 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 millimetres - it is possible to print larger components and a greater number of parts in a single job, so that different and changing requirements can be met.
The new F3300 printer has been developed for performance-orientated manufacturers and expands the range of production possibilities. It offers manufacturers the widest range of top-of-the-line FDM printers.
Xaar has announced a partnership with innovative 3D printing company Lincsolution Inc. Xaar's Nitrox and Aquinox printheads will be used by Lincsolution in its latest Binder Jet metal 3D printers as the company focuses on providing new machines for the mould, jig, automotive and mass manufacturing sectors.



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