Year in Review: A Look at the 3D Printing Industry in September 2023

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Defense applications were highlighted in September 2023. 3D Printing Industry was present at Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI), the biggest defense and security expo in Europe, reporting on how additive manufacturing is being utilized in the sector.

You can find All the 3D Printing News from 2023 here.

In other news, the continuing saga involving Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Desktop Metal added another chapter, while the escalating ‘laser wars’ witnessed the introduction of two new multi-laser metal 3D printers.

Continue reading for the top 3D printing news stories from September, featuring Lockheed Martin, Velo3D, Bambu Lab, Farsoon Technologies, Eplus3D, BEAMIT, Agile Space Industries, Airbus, and others.

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.

Dr. Ross Trepleton, Associate Director – Technology Strategy at MTC, mentioned about a GE midframe structure that has eliminated the need to fetch 300 parts from 50 diverse sources. Trepleton emphasized on a 3D periscope system built in conjunction with Babcock International Group and the Ministry of Defense(MoD), which is more cost-effective using additive manufacturing than old-fashioned approaches. 

Several challenges related to additive manufacturing were also discussed, particularly, issues around intellectual property sensitivity and classified information, that tend to hamper the required collaboration to advance the technology. 

Nonetheless, as per Trepleton, MTC has observed a positive transition after the pandemic, with growing consensus that transparency can deliver greater outcomes. Hence, an unprecedented level of openness is being noticed in the defense industry. 

Beyond DSEI, Aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin, metal 3D printer maker Velo3D and aerospace part inspection firm Vibrant proclaimed a collaboration with the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) LIFT Institute. As part of this association, they tested and evaluated the effectiveness 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.

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

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. 

During an Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders (EGM) that took place on 28 September, a significant 78.6% of Stratasys’ shareholders voted in opposition to the company’s proposed merger with Desktop Metal. Stemming from this result, Stratasys’ plan to acquire the Massachusetts-based 3D printer manufacturer has been called off. Instead of this approach, Stratasys is now “exploring strategic alternatives”.

In advance of the vote, 3D Systems had submitted a revised proposal for the acquisition of Stratasys. However, this proposal was declined due to Stratasys disputing the valuation that 3D Systems had put on the deal. In the revised proposition presented to Stratasys, the company was valued at $27 per share, according to the statement by 3D Systems.

Reflecting on the situation, 3D Systems’ President and CEO Dr. Jeffrey Graves stated, “We listened to the feedback from shareholders and put a strong effort into reaching a mutually acceptable transaction. However, it appears that there’s no price that would satisfy the Stratasys Board”.

Stratasys Headquarters in Rehovot, Isreal. Image courtesy of Stratasys.

3D printing ‘laser wars’

In the year 2023, we saw what can best be described as a ‘laser wars’. More and more companies started manufacturing metal 3D printers, each with an increasing number of lasers and larger build volumes.

Farsoon Technologies, a 3D printer manufacturer from China, is one such company. It announced the development of its 16-laser FS1521M 3D printer series in the month of September. This Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) 3D printer features a build chamber diameter of 1530mm and an 850mm Z-axis height. Farsoon also developed a variant of the FS1521M, dubbed the FS1521M-U, that extends the Z-axis to 1650mm. This 3D printer’s 16, 500-watt lasers are touted to enhance productivity for high-volume fabrication.

Eplus3D, another 3D printer manufacturer from China, introduced its own giant in the ring- the EP-M1550 metal 3D printer. Currently, this is the largest metal powder bed fusion system available in the market. The EP-M1550 boasts a 3D printing volume of 1558 x 1558 x 1200 mm, with the option of extending the height to 2000mm.

The 3D printer can be customized to include 16 500W or 700W lasers. What’s more, customers can choose to extend their EP-M1550 to include 25 lasers. The result is an impressive build rate of up to 650 cm³/h.

Growing applications in space and aerospace

September’s 3D printing news was populated by a number of additive manufacturing developments in the space and aerospace sectors. Italian 3D printing service bureau BEAMIT SpA announced that it is providing aerospace parts 3D printed in NASA-qualified AlSi7Mg aluminum for the Cygnus program. This program works to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) and advance space exploration using Northrop Grumman manufactured 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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