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
SolidWorks, a supplier of computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE), and other manufacturing and design software, recently announced that in 2017, it will integrate currently separate software suites to provide a “fully digitized design to manufacturing ecosystem.” Currently, part designers using CAD software need to design a part capable of performing its function while making sure the part is manufacturable given manufacturing equipment availability, configurations, and limitations. The software can currently perform certain sanity checks based on established Design for Manufacturing (DFM) rules, but Dassault Systemes (SolidWorks’ parent company) CEO Gian Paolo Bassi reported that in 2017 the company plans to go much further in allowing the software to make and optimize such decisions. In particular, SolidWorks plans for its software to keep track of what kinds of manufacturing equipment a given user has available, along with the capabilities and limits of that equipment, and even parts that are available off-the-shelf commercially, in order to determine whether a given design can be reliably made in a given manufacturing environment. The company plans to let the designer input the performance parameters for the part, which will allow the software to modify designs to make them manufacturable. Once a design is finalized, the same software will be able to configure equipment to manufacture the part. The goal is to make the design and manufacturing process as seamless as possible by identifying and fixing potential problems earlier in the design process, and to notice issues human engineers miss. Continue reading
Lux Research recently spoke with Mike Festa, Director of Wayfair’s Next at Wayfair, about how the online retailer is innovating on its customers’ online shopping experiences. Wayfair has over 7 million furniture and home décor products available through its website, and started the Wayfair Next R&D lab to bring part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience to online shoppers through visualization and ease of interaction (client registration required). The lab was created to digitize Wayfair’s extensive product catalog using 3D scanning to create augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) customer experiences. Creating this experience would require 3D scanning hardware, associated software and expertise, as well as developers to create the customer-facing AR and VR applications for desktop and mobile platforms. To redefine the online shopping experience and let people visualize products in their own homes, Wayfair needed to overcome the sizeable engineering hurdles associated with creating 3D models of its millions of products. Continue reading
NBS International published its BIM Report 2016 based on a survey conducted with construction industry professionals from the U.K., Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, and Japan. According to this report, 90% of the respondents are using building information modeling (BIM) to produce 3D visualizations, more than 70% of BIM users use it for clash detection, and around 50% use BIM for performance analysis. Clearly, there is a new level of awareness towards BIM and the majority of industry professionals think that it will be an integral part of design processes in one way or another. As the construction industry transitions towards digitization, the BIM landscape is loaded with various software solutions satisfying specific designers’ needs. We recently published a report detailing these BIM solutions ([see the report “Beyond Material Innovations: How Construction Technologies for Digitization and Automation Will Compete and Influence the Industry”] client registration required). It is essential for building material manufacturers to understand this landscape and how these solutions might influence them in the short as well as long term. This insight points out the benefits of BIM for material manufacturers going forward. Continue reading
Developers face rising pressure to bring novel, high performance materials to market faster and cheaper. Yet, most materials fail to meet commercial expectations, and lengthy timelines limit attractiveness to investors. On average, materials R&D takes as long today as it did decades ago. Now, emerging design and manufacturing tools such as 3D printing, 3D scanning, material informatics software, and modeling and simulation software, are beginning to accelerate materials and part design times. Continue reading
Last month, Gramazio Kohler Research, a Zurich-based research institute, received the Swiss Technology Award 2016 for its Mesh Mould project, which enables building load-bearing concrete components in any shape without standard formwork. Specifically, the researchers made a scaffold with a customized shape according to computer-aided design (CAD) by using a 3D printer to extrude unspecified polymer, and then the team poured concrete into the scaffold. The mesh-in-scaffold prevented concrete from running out laterally, so that the scaffold filled with concrete finally became the load-bearing concrete component the team designed. Continue reading
The month of October turned out to be a turbulent one for GE Aviation. After announcing a $1.4 billion acquisition of both Arcam and SLM Solutions (client registration required), it emerged that activist investor Elliot Advisors (which owns stakes in both companies) was challenging the terms of the deals. Elliot Advisors claimed that the acquisition bid for SLM Solutions undervalued the company, despite being at a 37% premium over SLM’s stock price at the time. GE Aviation eventually dropped its bid for SLM Solutions, and was forced to both raise the price of the Arcam deal and reduce the acceptance threshold. GE then announced that it was acquiring Concept Laser, a German manufacturer of selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers. Continue reading
What They Said
NVBOTS (client registration required) and Cincinnati Incorporated recently announced the Small Area Additive Manufacturing (SAAM) industrial 3D printer as a complement to Cincinnati Incorporated’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) system (client registration required). Cincinnati Incorporated will handle sales distribution, and support for the SAAM, while NVBOTS provides the printer and associated NVCloud software. The SAAM is a small build volume fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printer that is positioned as an automated prototyping tool for designers and engineers looking to print designs using BAAM amongst other manufacturing tools.
Oil and gas companies are beginning to explore the application of additive manufacturing to become more efficient in the current low oil price era. Several speculative use cases exist across the upstream/downstream sectors and offshore/conventional wells.
Lux Research developed a methodology to score 12 use cases based on the value generated by printing them and their suitability for being printed. Our analysis identified use cases such as pipeline pigs and sand control screens as forthcoming and liner hanger spikes and drill bits as high-potential applications. Among our findings:
- Some use cases are lucrative. Profitable use cases include 3D printing chemical injection stick tools and nozzles for downhole cleanout tools. Two speculative use cases that also sit in the “forthcoming” quadrant are sand control screens and pipeline pigs.
- Collaboration is key to technology hurdles. Partnerships are key to overcoming technological barriers in the short term. Oil and gas companies should engage with metal printing companies such as EnergyX and Arevo for developing new printing techniques for use cases like liner hanger spikes. For drill bits, candidate partners include Nanosteel and QuesTek Innovations.
- Culture, conservatism are barriers. Oil and gas executives cite industry size and structure, risk aversion, and lack of infrastructure as key reasons for slow adoption of 3D printing. However, the success of 3D printing in the automotive and aerospace industries shows these factors are not insurmountable barriers, and the oil and gas industry’s growing focus on operational efficiency is driving change.
The oil and gas industry must implement a three-pronged approach – internal conceptualization, partnerships, and infrastructure – to successfully adopt additive manufacturing.
By: Harshit Sharma