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 →
We recently caught up with Mathieu Boulander, VP of Business Development at molding process developer RocTool. The company recently announced the addition of overmolding to its Integrated Internal Induction Technologies (3iTech) for forming mixed composite and plastic parts. Introduced in 2009, 3iTech uses induction to locally heat the surface of a magnetic steel mold. Heating a smaller volume makes it more practical to operate at higher temperatures, enabling faster cycle times, improved surface quality, and thinner parts, while eliminating the need for preheating and pre-consolidation. The new “hybrid” technology is a two-step process: a thermoplastic composite is compression-molded and an unfilled plastic is subsequently injection-overmolded. The result is a multi-material part that does not need to be trimmed or surface-finished.
RocTool faces a few strong competitors in this emerging area: FiberForge’s (Client registration required) automated tape-laying system has a long list of existing technology partners, heavyweight Teijin has incorporated a proprietary welding process (Client registration required), and Cutting Dynamics’ unique hydroforming process is also notable. However, each uses either thermoforming, pressure forming, or hydroforming – processes limited in design capabilities when used alone. RocTool’s integrated overmolding greatly expands design flexibility, while maintaining reasonable cycle times of two to four minutes; and the company’s 40 licensees – including Flextronics, SABIC (Client registration required), Engel, and Azdel – are evidence that the composites industry considers these benefits desirable and cost-effective. The one caveat is that the finished part will not entirely be continuous fiber-reinforced composite, which could mean cost savings for some applications but reduced performance for others. Although consumer electronics is currently its primary application focus, BMW has been a partner since 2005, and the improved cycle times and design flexibility offered by RocTool’s novel process technology may help it find further traction in automotive lightweighting (see the report “Under the Hood: Mapping Automotive Innovations to Megatrends.” Client registration required).
Like U.S. consumers celebrating holidays and post-holiday sales, chemical giants have been in the mood to shop lately, and biotech is on their lists. Earlier this month, DuPont announced that it is buying Danisco for about $6 billion. DuPont is, of course, an iconic chemicals and materials company, while Danisco is an industrial biotech company, making chemical “parts” for products as diverse as biofuels, foods, and detergents.
Why are these transactions important? Because they provide further evidence that traditional chemicals and materials companies are expanding beyond petroleum-based materials and industrial chemicals to get into biotechnology – but they’re not just using small investments in small start-ups to do so. There are two huge strategic drivers behind the trend (see the January 5, 2010 LRBJ – client registration required). First, there’s the erosion of the basic petrochemicals commodity business by new entrants from oil-producing nations, like SABIC; and, second, there’s the opportunity to leverage biotechnology to produce new chemicals and materials at the high-performance edge of the spectrum (see the September 15, 2009 LRBJ – client registration required). With the stakes now in the billions, expect more M&A activity targeting larger biospecialists like Novozymes as the agriculture, chemicals, and energy industries pursue the same opportunities in biomaterials and biofuels.