3D printing has encouraged printable thermoplastic materials development and facilitated their application in functional prototyping, molds and tooling, and final part production. Only a small subset of these materials come from biological sources, making the production and disposal of 3D printed parts just as concerning for consumers and environmentally conscious businesses as in conventional manufacturing. New biopolymers currently in development for conventional manufacturing can provide interesting opportunities for expanding biopolymer use in 3D printing applications. Continue reading
Walmart’s Academy training centers are planning on incorporating virtual reality (VR) as a part of their employee preparation by the end of 2017. The company will use this technology to assist in educating the estimated 150,000 employees that enter the 200 Walmart Academy training centers each year. VR software company STRIVR Labs, along with gaming PC and head-mounted display (HMD) Oculus Rift will be used to showcase the VR training materials. Continue reading
On May 22, Switzerland-based Clariant and U.S.-based Huntsman announced that the two firms would merge and create a new combined company, the unimaginatively-named HuntsmanClariant. With little business overlap and few technical synergies between the two firms, the prime motivation of the merger is simply to create a larger firm. The combined firm would have had $13.2 billion in revenue in 2016 (excluding Huntsman’s Pigments and Additives business, which is to be spun out as Venator Materials this summer), making it the second largest specialty chemical company in the world behind Evonik at $15.2 billion and just ahead of Covestro also at $13.2 billion. Clariant and Huntsman believe that within the next 10 years, the specialty chemical industry will be dominated by six to eight global companies, each with sales in the $14 billion to $17 billion range. The two firms believe this merger will put them in a strong position to be one of the survivors.
As shown in Figure 1, HuntsmanClariant will consist of eight specialty chemical businesses, four from each company. Over time, the firm may off-load its two lowest-margin businesses, Clariant’s Plastics and Coatings and Huntsman’s Textile Effects. Huntsman had previously attempted to sell Textile Effects as part of its Venator spin-out, and Clariant has floated the idea of selling Plastics and Coating in 2015, and continues to do so.
Lux Research recently attended the RAPID+TCT Accelerating 3D Manufacturing event, which brought more than 330 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees together for four days of keynotes, technical sessions, and networking. RAPID had over 100 more exhibitors than the 2016 event, covering every aspect of the additive manufacturing value chain. From materials suppliers to system providers, here are the top five takeaways with impact assessment, which includes a list of the five most notable companies at this year’s event.
1. Leading chemicals and materials companies were present, demonstrating increased interest in this market opportunity for metals, thermoplastics, and additives. Notable exhibitors included SABIC, Henkel, Covestro, Arkema, Praxair, and Sandvik. Continue reading
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, Germany, have demonstrated the use of digital holography to discover defects in objects as small as a few centimeters. Markus Fratz, Alexander Bertz, and Tobias Beckmann used 3D digital holography by deploying a set of short laser flashes and interferometry to identify defects to a precision of a few microns. Continue reading
Raven Telemetry: Operational intelligence platform for manufacturing environments
Lux Take: Wait and See
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Raven’s hardware-enabled software platform is aimed at boosting efficiency in production environments, and it rapidly deploys to capture key data points on the shop floor
- Software platform uses neural networks and deep learning to detect anomalies in equipment performance, using variables such as RPM, voltage, and other inputs directly from machines and programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
- The company has built its software platform entirely in-house, without partners; it assembles its own data collection hardware, but this is not a differentiator
- The product aims to be a lower-cost, more-actionable alternative to expensive solutions from large platform vendors; the company brings strong manufacturing expertise and aims to only collect relevant data points
- Raven has acquired one key customer and scaled to eight sites, with five planned for H1 2017
- Raised $1 million in seed funding and launched its product in 2016, and will seek additional funding in 2017
- Clients are urged to follow Raven closely and evaluate as an investment target; its hardware-light, action-focused platform has proved it can boost key metrics for manufacturing, although the company must expand its sales and channel organization to scale
CJS Production Technologies: Coiled tubing umbilical products
Lux Take: Positive
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- CJS is a manufacturer of two coiled tubing umbilical products for assisting in artificial lift operations, the FlatPak and ArmorPak
- The FlatPak is an encapsulated rectangular matrix of coiled tubing used for rigless conveyance and actuation of downhole pumps
- The ArmorPak is a steel coiled tubing umbilical developed for installation of ESPs in high-pressure and high-temperature conditions
- The company claims its clients have saved up to 50% in installation costs for downhole pumps by encapsulating coiled tubing using CJS’s products
- CJS’s primary business model is to perform artificial lift services for oil operators with deployments done in North America, China, and Venezuela to date; key clients include ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy and Husky Energy
- Readers interested in rigless installation of downhole pumps should engage with CJS; the company is looking for joint ventures to enter new markets outside North America
Norsk Titanium (client registration required) recently announced that Boeing has ordered titanium structural components for the 787 made using Norsk’s additive manufacturing process. Norsk received FAA approval for the components in question in February 2017 after more than a year of testing by Boeing. Its printing process, Rapid Plasma Deposition (RPD), combines additive and subtractive steps: first building up a part using plasma arc deposition from a wire feedstock, then CNC machining the part to the final specifications. Compared to conventional titanium manufacturing, the RPD process can reduce cost by up to 70%, primarily from its comparatively low buy-to-fly ratio of 1.5:1. At the same time, compared to powder-based 3D printing processes (which can sometimes achieve even lower 1.1:1 buy-to-fly ratios), RPD is faster and can produce larger parts, up to 2 m across. Other wire-based metal 3D printers, such as those from Sciaky, achieve similar speed and part size to RPD but do not incorporate subtractive machining in a single production tool. To meet the increased production demand from Boeing’s purchase order, Norsk plans to move production from Norway to a facility in Plattsburgh, NY, which will have nine printers operating by the end of 2017. Ultimately, the company claims it will be producing several tons of titanium components for each 787, which would reduce the Boeing’s material cost per plane by as much as $2 million to $3 million. Continue reading
adidas recently announced the launch of Futurecraft 4D, a performance running shoe with a 3D printed midsole that will be available to consumers in fall 2017. Although adidas and other footwear companies have demonstrated shoes with a 3D printed midsole, this is the first time a sportswear manufacturer will manufacture and sell thousands of 3D printed midsole shoes. The Futurecraft 4D shoe was developed through a strategic partnership with Carbon (formerly Carbon 3D) that leveraged the company’s digital light synthesis (DLS, previously referred to as continuous liquid interface production [CLIP]) technology and elastomeric polyurethane photopolymer resins. adidas promises to deliver 5,000 pairs to consumers this year, and also claims it will manufacture over 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018. A closer analysis of these claims makes this announcement less valuable as a manufacturing benchmark, and more valuable from a marketing and strategy standpoint. Continue reading
Three composite additive manufacturing companies have established themselves as the leaders in continuous fiber-reinforced composite 3D printing. Although there is an entire ecosystem of fiber-reinforced composite 3D printing companies and printable materials, only Continuous Composites, Markforged, and Arevo have demonstrated technologies that incorporate continuous fiber into each layer of a printed part, making them the startup technology leaders driving widespread adoption of automated chopped and continuous fiber-reinforced part production without large-scale capital expenditure.
Multiple interviews with founders and executives at each company have resulted in composite scores from 1 to 5 for business execution, technology value, and maturity as shown in the below graphic. All three companies were founded in 2013, have raised angel or venture funding, and have numerous patent applications filed, with all three having at least one U.S. patent granted.
Material and printing technology differences result in unique value propositions for each company:
- Continuous Composites uses fast UV light-curing thermosets reinforced with any combination of continuous fibers including fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar fiber, copper wire, or fiber optic strands on a five-axis gantry system. The company’s process can print single or multiple tows simultaneously. The multimaterial capabilities allows part production with integrated circuitry for sensing, data transfer, and/or resistive heating functionality. The fast-curing materials can be printed into free space without product supports, and the use of thermosets does not inhibit post-processing machining steps. Continuous Composites continues to develop its technology for industry applications, specifically aerospace, and has recently been granted a key patent having the earliest priority date of patents granted to the three companies discussed here, which will enable its licensing business model for 2017.
- Markforged uses a nylon or chopped carbon fiber-reinforced nylon that can be reinforced with fiberglass, carbon fiber, or Kevlar fiber on a three-axis gantry system. The company includes cloud-based software that gives users multiple fiber placement options within each part layer, and can incorporate laser micrometer data (on its top printer model only) to monitor dimensional accuracy. The extensive software control combined with the mid-grade engineering thermoplastic makes for an ideal alternative to machined metal for manufacturing tooling applications. Markforged has three printers available with continuous fiber-reinforcement, all with sub-six figure price points. The company has also entered into a second 3D printing category with the recent announcement of a metal 3D printer.
- Arevo uses high-performance engineering thermoplastics such as polyetheretherketone (PEEK) and polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) reinforced with chopped carbon fiber and/or continuous carbon fiber using a six-axis robotic arm. Using PEEK and PEKK allows for structural high temperature applications up to 400°C, and the additional degrees of freedom via the robotic arm allows printing onto complex surfaces. The company combines this with a custom finite element analysis (FEA) software that provides toolpath optimization and strength analysis to determine fiber orientation and material usage in order to maximize a part’s strength-to-weight ratio. Arevo is developing its continuous fiber-reinforcement technology and expects to release it in late 2017 for aerospace and defense, among other industrial applications.
In addition to materials selection, business model differentiation keeps these companies from competing directly for customers in key industries such as aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and consumer packaged goods:
- Continuous Composites looks to license its patented process, IP portfolio, materials, printers, and software through industry partnerships
- Markforged sells printers and materials while providing hardware and software support
- Arevo helps design and manufacture parts as a service provider with its custom software and hardware capabilities targeting high volume production parts
The licensing and service provider business models are more fitting to Continuous Composites and Arevo, respectively, because their technologies have many degrees of freedom and require technical expertise to implement successfully. Markforged has focused on making its fiber-reinforced composite printing technology accessible and dependable to provide performance beyond traditional fused filament fabrication systems. Although Markforged leads the fiber-reinforced composite 3D printing technology space in terms of business execution, certain aspects such as interlaminar shear strength between printed layers and limited fiber inclusion by part weight remain to be fully addressed. Despite this, Markforged’s early success in this unique part of the additive manufacturing technology landscape is an indicator of things to come for Continuous Composites and Arevo, and increases awareness towards 3D printed continuous fiber-reinforced composites. The high technology scores of Continuous Composites and Arevo relative to their maturity and business execution indicate the technology’s core strength and promise in creating functional and high-performance composites that ultimately compete with metals and conventional manufacturing technologies across industries. The question to answer now is how to take advantage of a growing technology space determined to bring performance materials and automation together in a cost-competitive package.
By: Dayton Horvath