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Two weeks after the largest Additive Manufacturing trade show, and the roundup articles are still flowing in. With several insights from industry experts, there are a lot, and we mean A LOT of new companies entering the market, while veteran companies continue to break ground with new product announcements. How do you filter through the noise? Whose technology is actually differentiated, and what applications and industries are starting to adopt these technologies?

In addition to the roundups commenting on the sheer size of this year’s show, the number of new companies displaying, and the general signs of a growing and maturing industry, Fortify has a few more general insights and takeaways from this year’s Formnext:

  • There were many new DLP printers on display, yet there was little variation in the technology and range of material properties. We will be keeping an eye out for what DLP printers are solving new problems and differentiating themselves.
  • Adoption for true additive manufacturing remains slow. Dental applications, medical implants, and jewelry seem to be the industries that are seeing real adoption., but the question remains at large for many technologies: what additional killer applications will drive the next waves further disruption of AM?
  • There were many companies across the entire supply chain rather than just the printer OEMs including: post-processing, materials, and software companies. It will be interesting to see what partnerships and acquisitions form across the supply chain as the industry continues to mature.
  • It’s increasingly hard for companies to stand out from the crowd as every niche seems to have multiple competitors.

Can yet another startup standout?

3D Printing Media Network commented in their roundupCeramics and composites are getting closer to real automated production, with some very intense in-segment competition and several new players entering the market as startups and spinoffs.” 

We couldn’t agree more.

There were a lot of composites on display this year, which is an indication of a fast growing segment of 3D printing. Let’s take a look at why composites are hotter than ever and what this means for the different players out there.

First let’s define a composite as two or more materials – a reinforcement and a matrix – that are combined to produce a new material offering different and improved characteristics than each of its individual materials.

Composites (or as we like to call them – fiber reinforced polymers) are widely sought after because of their incredible material properties. Carbon fiber is just one example, offering high strength to weight ratio. You might add other fibers if you seek better toughness, wear resistance, and conductive properties. Glass, ceramic, copper flake, Teflon, and even mica are different fibers that are used to fill polymers. 

Injection molded parts that are fiber filled typically show 20 to 100% increases in strength, stiffness and HDT.  Additive manufacturing is hungry for this type of step change in 3D printed parts, and it is no wonder that composites are gaining traction.  Figuring out how to print fiber-reinforced materials to capitalize on these properties have proven to be a challenge.  

This year’s Formnext featured many continuous fiber thermoplastic printers. This type of technology delivers greater load distribution and strength along the X/Y axis. However, continuous fibers cannot penetrate small, delicate regions of complex geometries, which can be the very areas of the part requiring the greatest reinforcement.

Chopped fiber solutions open up many more options for users in both extrusion and SLS based thermoplastic materials.  . Unlike continuous fiber, chopped fibers are able to reinforce small geometries, such as overhangs. Chopped fiber composites are also more affordable, faster and easier to use than continuous fiber. It’s important to note that with chopped fiber, the strength of the printed part is dependent on the percent fiber used and materials will suffer from anisotropy due to layering effects. 

Using a thermoset resin, Fortify has developed a method for absolute control of fibers in a reinforced polymer, creating a composite with highly sought isotropic material properties. 

 So to answer our question above, yes – we do think another startup can stand out – especially with a differentiating technology that leads to newly additive material properties.

What to look for at Formnext 2020

Formext 2019 proved the industry is eager for additively manufactured composites, and our crystal ball tells us that we’ll be seeing more of it next year.  We expect to see more continuous fiber solutions, and maybe even some more fiber-filled thermosets. We are hopeful that more people will be talking more about alignment, and understand the importance of fiber control when it comes to fiber-filled composites that are 3D printed.

We believe the industry will continue to grow with more mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships across the supply chain. We are excited and hopeful about the future of the industry, and can feel the momentum moving forward, and we look forward to being a part of it. See you at Formnext 2020!