Yearly Roundup: A Review of 3D Printing Industry in September 2023

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Defense applications were the main focus in September 2023. We at 3D Printing Industry had the opportunity to attend Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI), which is recognized as Europe’s premier defense and security expo, to understand how additive manufacturing is taking shape in this sector.

Stay updated with all of the 3D Printing News from 2023.

Moving on to other news, the continuous saga involving Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Desktop Metal saw yet another surprising development. Furthermore, the ongoing ‘laser wars’ marked the introduction of two new multi-laser metal 3D printers.

In this post, you’ll get to know about September’s most significant 3D printing news stories involving Lockheed Martin, Velo3D, Bambu Lab, Farsoon Technologies, Eplus3D, BEAMIT, Agile Space Industries, Airbus, and many more.

DSEI 2023. Photo by Michael Petch.

Additive manufacturing in the defense industry

Taking place every two years, DSEI is a London-based four-day event showcasing the latest defense hardware and military technology. With the likes of BAE Systems, MBDA, Leonardo, and Lockheed Martin exhibiting, this year’s event saw several companies leveraging additive manufacturing.

During a panel discussion headed by Andy Barnes from the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s (MTC), a number of notable additive manufacturing use cases for defense were highlighted.

For example, Dr. Ross Trepleton, the Associate Director of Technology Strategy at MTC, noted the significance of a GE midframe structure that eradicated the need for 300 components from 50 various sources. Trepleton commended a 3D periscope device co-developed with Babcock International Group and the Ministry of Defense (MoD). This contraption proves to be more cost-effective when built through additive manufacturing compared to traditional means.

Despite these advancements, notable challenges associated with additive manufacturing were also underscored. Issues such as sensitivity of intellectual property and classified data were said to impede the needed collaboration to advance the technology.

Nonetheless, Trepleton revealed that the MTC experienced a favorable shift after the COVID situation. It was observed that increased transparency can produce superior results. Because of this, the defense industry is now witnessing a greater level of openness previously unobserved in the sector.

Beyond DSEI, Aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin, metal 3D printer producer Velo3D, and aerospace part inspection firm Vibrant have announced a collaboration with the US Department of Defense’s LIFT Institute. The partnership involves testing and evaluating the efficacy of 3D printed hypersonic ramjet engines.

These engines possess very few moving parts, and incorporate a complex internal structure, unlike their turbojet counterparts. Once 3D printed using Velo3D’s laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) technology, the ramjets underwent acoustics-based Process-Compensated Resonance Testing (PCRT). The success of this initial testing stage will next see the team consider the fatigue behavior of 3D printed components and move towards “born-certified” parts.

Merger and acquisition uncertainty 

In August there was hope that the persistent 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Desktop Metal merger and acquisition saga could be finally reaching an amicable conclusion. 

Ajax armoured fighting vehicle system at DSEI 2023. Photo by Michael Petch.

However, during an Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders (EGM) held on 28 September, 78.6% of Stratasys’ shareholders voted against the company’s proposed merger with Desktop Metal. As a result, Stratasys’ deal to acquire the Massachusetts-based 3D printer manufacturer was terminated, with Stratasys instead “exploring strategic alternatives.”

Prior to the vote, 3D Systems had a revised proposal to purchase Stratasys rejected, with Stratasys disputing the valuation 3D Systems placed on the deal. The revised proposal delivered to Stratasys valued the company at $27 per share, according to 3D Systems.  

“We listened to shareholder feedback and made a strong effort to reach a friendly transaction but it seems there is no price that would satisfy the Stratasys Board,” stated 3D Systems’ President and CEO Dr. Jeffrey Graves. 

3D printing ‘laser wars’

In 2023, the ‘laser wars’ phenomenon surfaced, with the number of firms manufacturing metal 3D printers steadily increasing. The new printers featured increasing counts of lasers and larger build volumes. 

A notable contributor to this trend was the Chinese 3D printer manufacturer Farsoon Technologies. In September, they announced the development of the 16-laser FS1521M 3D printer series. This Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) 3D printer stands out with a build chamber diameter of 1530mm, and an 850mm Z-axis height. In addition, Farsoon offers a FS1521M-U model, which further increases the Z-axis to 1650mm. The printer’s 16, 500-watt lasers are touted to greatly enhance productivity in high-volume production contexts.  

In a similar vein, the Chinese 3D printer manufacturer Eplus3D introduced their EP-M1550 metal 3D printer. Notably, this printer is the largest metal powder bed fusion system currently available on the market. The EP-M1550 features a 3D printing volume of 1558 x 1558 x 1200 mm, and offers an option to further extend the height to 2000mm. 

The 3D printer can be individualized to integrate 16 500W or 700W lasers. More than that, the consumers have the option to broaden their EP-M1550 to add 25 lasers. The outcome is a noteworthy build rate of up to 650 cm³/h.

Increasing uses in space and aerospace

The news of 3D printing in September was filled with numerous additive manufacturing developments in space and aerospace sectors. The Italian 3D printing service provider BEAMIT SpA made an announcement about providing aerospace components 3D printed in NASA-qualified AlSi7Mg aluminum for the Cygnus project. This project aims to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) and promote space exploration using Northrop Grumman made Cygnus spacecraft.

The AlSi7Mg components are NADCAP certified, and reportedly exceed NASA’s minimum material requirements. To produce and supply the parts, BEAMIT is collaborating with Power Electrical Resistor manufacturer Telema, Italian electronics company Blu Electronic, and aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.

Elsewhere, Aerospace propulsion system developer Agile Space Industries announced that it is pursuing certification of Ni625 powder from Industrial 3D printing materials manufacturer 6K Additive. Agile hopes to use this material for customer space applications, including the production of 3D printed critical rocket parts.

In aviation, an academic collaboration between global aircraft OEM Airbus, Cranfield University spin-out WAAM3D, and 14 other partners was launched to develop lower-emission 3D printed airplane landing gear components. Called I-Break (Landing Gear Industrial Breakthroughs), this £22.5 million project is set to be completed in 2026.

New products in the Desktop 3D printing market

Finally, September saw a number of new desktop 3D printers hit the market. One company which rose to prominence in 2023 was Desktop 3D printer manufacturer Bambu Lab. The company launched the A1 mini and AMS lite, an FDM multi-color 3D printer, in September.

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