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TCT 2018 – Collaborations, Conference, Coffee Catch-Ups

 [Image: Fabbaloo]
[Image: Fabbaloo]

Continuing to look at the highlights of TCT, announcements and partnerships come to light.

A standout product announcement that came from TCT was from Xaar, who announced a new technology for liquid photopolymers. In terms of Xaar’s previous engagement with 3D printing, this was a bit on an eyebrow raiser, actually. The company is taking 3D printing very seriously — it launched a separate 3DP division, headed up by Neil Hopkinson, last year, but has been working with 3D printing for more than 10 years. The focus then was very much on the high speed sintering process, developed by Hopkinson, and the inkjet head development for powder bed processes of this nature. This announcement though, indicates a new direction in developing specific, high performance inkjet heads for direct deposition of photopolymers. Talking with Angus Condie (Director of Integration and Applications) and Michael Seal (Business Development Manager) as well as Simon Kirk (Senior Product Manager) there has been a specific goal with this development called “High Laydown Technology” to achieve better performance through expanded material properties with photopolymers, and a dedicated move towards manufacturing. According to the team, this technology enables high viscosity resins, at a higher rate of throughput (5-10x faster than existing photopolymer processes) that results in 80 micron layers and higher functionality and durability of parts. The new Xaar technology has been developed in collaboration with material supplier BASF, but no indication of the system platform, as yet, probably because there isn’t one. Xaar was open is saying this is not commercially available at system level yet in the 3D printing sector, they’re looking for an OEM partner to find a route to market. That was part of the reason they were at TCT. As UK networks go, it’s one of the best to find what you’re looking for. I’ll be very interested to see where this goes.

New partnerships and collaborations were the order of the week, there was a host of them announced during the TCT show.

Shapeways and Stratasys revealed their new partnership, based on Shapeways acquiring a J750 platform and now able to offer the full colour advantages that this system offers. Laser Lines, with a large presence on the show floor, had a space dedicated to its new partnership with, Additive Industries, who also had a small stand of their own. Additive Industries is arguably leading the way in terms of offering a full “turnkey solution” for production with AM, according to Laser Lines’ account manager, Paul Tickle. Additive Industries has installed systems as Sauber and BMW, with one (undisclosed recipient) in the UK due to install one in Q1 of 2019. The most information I could get was “it’ll be near Bristol” which narrows it down some, but still leaves plenty of options for where it might be going. My money would be on Airbus or UWE. At Laser Lines, the Additive Industries solution sits alongside the Desktop Metal and OR Laser metal AM offerings; as well as Laser Line’s long term offering of the full range of Stratasys systems. More recently the company has also been a distributor of Formlabs 3D printers.

Other partnerships announced were from XJet, who has announced a UK partnership with Carfulan Group, who will be distributing XJet’s ceramic and metal systems based on the novel NanoParticle Jetting process; and US based Link3D who announced a new partnership with the Aachen Centre for AM to promote its AM workflow software across Europe.

Across my time at TCT, I took some sparse opportunities to dip in and out of the conference sessions. A specific highlight was a research presentation given by Candice Majewski from the University of Sheffield. Her presentation highlighted a project that was exploring how to incorporate anti-bacterial properties into polymer laser sintered parts. To date, the project was showing encouraging results in terms of combining LS polymers with a silver based additive with known anti-bacterial properties. Candice was able to share that they were achieving good dispersion; with no discernible effects on the properties of the printed part or human side effects; and repeatable positive results when the parts interact with bacteria.  Important to stress this is still research, but exciting in terms of the possibilities and where this could be successfully applied in terms of applications and reducing the need for antibiotics, which, if their use is not reduced, by 2050 could see 10 million people per year dying from antibiotic resistance. Where AM can support the human condition — now or in the future — you will find me, and many others, cheering. But all kudos should go to those researchers, like Candice, that are actually laying the foundations.

One other highlight to mention came to my attention as I sat sipping much-needed coffee on the first morning of the show, waiting for the doors to open. A gentleman asked to share the table I was sat at, and we got chatting — I know, shocker, right? Lykle Schepers had made the trip to TCT from Cyprus (he is originally from the Netherlands). His primary purpose for the trip was on behalf of his company, Zesty Technology, of which he was a founder, and its development of an innovative extruder for desktop 3D printers. The innovation comes largely from the reduced weight — a functional 26g, compared with the industry standard 300g, in combination with the ability to control the extruder remotely and a very simple loading mechanism. For any open source advocates, this is definitely worth a look, IMHO. Moreover, with more than 1000 units sold to date, and a second gen product in development, Lykle also set me up for the show pondering another interesting dichotomy –  the uses of 3D printing / AM for prototyping and/or production. The Zesty extruder is currently produced with outsourced AM, but Lykle is looking to install an in-house system to fulfil the company’s production requirements as well as provide a much needed high-end AM service in Cyprus. At the moment, two AM systems almost meet his needs — both the HP MJF process and EOS’s nylon SLS are contenders. However, according to Lykle, neither process offers everything he needs for his application, they both have pluses and minuses. And there, once again, is the age old story of this tech sector. There is no silver bullet – no matter what any marketing person tells you — even in 2018.

This is part two of a three-part TCT Show 2018 recap. Read parts one and three.

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