Stratasys has a big announcement of some type coming up on April 28th. What could it be about?
The company has sent out flashy invitations to an online “reveal” event for Wednesday, April 28th, at which time they say they will announced not one, but three new 3D printers. The invitation provocatively says:
“3 New 3D Printers • 3 Technologies • 3 Ways to Transform Manufacturing
Be there when Stratasys unveils the latest additive manufacturing solutions that will deliver disruptive speed, cost savings and productivity to your operations!”
It’s not clear at this point what they will specifically announce, because there are many days between today and the announcement. However, we can do some speculation based on prior knowledge.
Let’s put the pieces together here. What do we know?
In 2019 Stratasys made a significant investment (45%) in Xaar, a German company that produces industrial high-speed print heads that can “drop on demand” at high resolution.
This year — and only a few weeks ago — Stratasys announced an entirely new 3D printing process they call “SAF”, or “Selective Absorption Fusion”. It’s a powder process similar to SLS, except instead of lasers heating the powder to fuse selective portions, infrared light heats a special high-energy absorption fluid that has been selectively dropped on to the powder bed layer.
See the connection here?
SAF is inherently a production-style 3D printing technology, as it can operate at very high speed, has enormous throughput and can scale to relatively large build volumes.
Coincidentally, Stratasys has not yet announced any SAF 3D printers, just that they will be in an upcoming “H Series”. It’s therefore extremely likely they will announce one or more on the 28th. They have to get that tech out there soon, don’t they?
Would they announce three SAF 3D printers?
That’s a good question, because the announcement clearly says: “3 Technologies”. With three 3D printers, that sounds like only one of the new devices will be SAF, while the others will use other technologies. What could they be?
My guess is that the other two technologies will be Stratasys’ long-familiar FDM and PolyJet processes.
Of course, they already market multiple machines with those processes, so what’s going on here? Why have new machines?
My suspicion is that there is more to the story here, and that something will tie all three printers together, even though they employ different 3D printing processes.
That tie-in is no doubt “Production”.
Stratasys has long been attempting to enter the true manufacturing market by supplying industry with large-scale production solutions. They haven’t really done so yet, aside from a series of experimental demonstrators that seem to have been abandoned.
But think about how this likely played out: Stratasys had some interesting ideas and built out some prototype demonstrators. While these were shown to the public and media, they were certainly tested in actual industrial settings, where Stratasys absolutely must have learned a great deal about what it would take to properly insert 3D print tech into a modern manufacturing operation.
Those discoveries and knowledge likely doomed the demonstrators, and they probably went back to the drawing board. The result we’re seeing later this month could perhaps be the “plan B” for Stratasys’ manufacturing ambitions.
This is why I think they’re using FDM and PolyJet: the new machines using those technologies will have some kind of packaging that will be highly integratabtle into manufacturing in ways never possible with their existing lines of devices. The new SAF device will be the same.
If the new machines and concepts are accepted by industry, it will be a revelation for Stratasys, which began long ago in the prototyping world. While that was certainly profitable, their patents eventually expired and they’ve been forced to compete with many lower-cost startups since then. The difficult shift into manufacturing will once again provide the company with a profitable platform that is massively larger than the prototyping market in any case.
I’m looking forward to seeing their announcement; aren’t you?