Exploring Recent Technical Innovations at 3D Systems: An Exclusive Booth Tour with VP Marty Johnson


During my visit to Formnext 2023, I had the opportunity to be shown around the 3D Systems stand by Marty Johnson, Vice President, Product and Technical Fellow at 3D Systems. He took me through their latest innovations, which included a sneak peek at a new platform they had revealed at the event.

One of the star attractions of their display was the EXT 1070 Titan Pellet, which Johnson indicated had the unique capability of dealing with commercial pellets such as PC ABS, regular glass fill, carbon polycarbonate, among others. This technology allows for fine finishing on plastic parts, an advantage when creating large items such as car jigs and fixtures while ensuring data accuracy. The speed and precision of this method also come into good use for vacuum-forming tooling.

A major talking point was on how these groundbreaking technologies were revolutionising transportation through their cost-effectiveness and efficiency. To illustrate this, Johnson mentioned a piece produced from glass-filled polycarbonate pellets, highlighting the use of high-performance plastics. He gave another example of a radar mounting mast fabricated from a carbon cell ABS, and was later gel-coated to give a seamless finish. This component, significant for its light weight and visual appeal, is a testament to the progress made in 3D printing technology for limited-volume manufacturing, presenting an alternative to older methods like metal machining.

Johnson made it clear that the adoption of these innovative technologies could lead to a significant reduction in time and cost in manufacturing processes. This is particularly true for limited-volume, high-precision items and marks a change in production methodologies towards more efficient and flexible solutions.

Our next stop took in some of 3D Systems’ latest advancements in 3D printing technology for the medical field.

Johnson introduced the EXT 220 MED, previously known as the Kumovis R1, a medical printer notable for its cleanroom-rated interior. He highlighted its significant role in creating a cranial implant, emphasizing the printer’s capability to 3D print PEEK, which is crucial for such medical applications. This technology represents a significant leap in medical 3D printing, offering new possibilities in patient-specific treatments.

Discussing the Delta setup of the printer, Johnson explained its advantages in terms of freedom of movement and accuracy, which are essential for producing complex medical parts like spinal cages. The Delta setup also provides flexibility due to fewer electronics on the print head, which is beneficial in a high-temperature environment inside the printer.

3D Systems EXT 220 MED. Photo by Michael Petch.

New PSLA 270 combines SLA and Figure 4 Technologies

Johnson then previewed the PSLA 270, a new model combining features from SLA and Figure 4 technologies. This printer boasts a dual-projector system, a VAT at the bottom, and improvements in speed, accuracy, and repeatability. Johnson mentioned the successful use of their Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10 material, noting its rigidity, quick print speeds, and impact resistance. He compared its properties to PMMA acrylic plastic, highlighting its suitability for various applications.

A key focus of the discussion was the long-term stability of these materials. Johnson stressed that their materials are formulated for longevity, with minimal to low changes in elongation at break tested out to 8 years indoors, and also tested to 1.5 to 2 years outdoors. This stability is critical in choosing materials for industrial and medical applications, as it ensures the durability and reliability of the printed parts.

Johnson revealed that the new PSLA 270 printer model, previewed at the event, is expected to be commercially available mid-next year. He emphasized the importance of fine-tuning the product for a successful launch, noting the printer’s unique capabilities.

Discussions on product lines, particularly the new printer’s material selection, are still ongoing, with special mention of the NextDent material portfolio. The speaker expressed strong faith in the versatility of the Figure 4 material portfolio, which includes materials suitable for medical sterilization and high-durability applications such as Figure 4 FLEX-BLK 20.

The speaker emphasized 3D Systems’ extensive experience in software development and projector-based printing, a journey that commenced in 2007. This rich history has facilitated their mastery over pixel manipulation and edge resolution. This, coupled with their deep-rooted process knowledge, unique hardware, and comprehensive customer service, uniquely positions them in the industry. The speaker also acknowledged the work of the company’s Application Innovation Group (AIG), a department dedicated to resolving complex problems, highlighting their capacity to deliver speed, accuracy, repeatability, and simplicity in their SLA systems.

Johnson voiced that the competition is no longer confined to rival 3D printing companies but has now expanded to include traditional manufacturing processes like injection molding and machining. The goal is to capture high-value applications through the leveraged capability of their technology to produce complex geometries and materials, marking a strategic pivot from solely competing within the 3D printing industry to taking on conventional manufacturing methods. This strategy reflects the broader vision of 3D Systems to revolutionize production processes across various industry sectors.

3D Printing as a Competitive Advantage

Medical applications, especially in surgical planning, have been significantly discussed with emphasis on the SLA 750 Dual. This advanced 3D printer, which was upgraded from a single laser to a dual laser system a year ago, was particularly showcased by Johnson. He underscored the crucial role of this machine by noting, “When I talk about SLA, we’ve been doing it from the start,” shedding light on 3D Systems’ mastery in materials and machine control.

Johnson also talked about the Accura AMX Tough FR-V0 Black, a flame-resistant material renowned for its extraordinary toughness, a feature seldom seen in flame-retardant materials. Coupled with 3D Sprint, the advanced software of 3D Systems, this material allows for boosted speed, accuracy, and repeatability.

Furthermore, he mentioned the application of these technologies in intense conditions such as Formula 1, underlining the significance of their printing capabilities for producing high-performance parts swiftly. As an example, he showed how the dual laser system drastically reduces printing time. For instance, a component that would take 32 hours on a comparative system (Pro X 800) could be produced in just 25 hours using their single laser system and even more quickly with their dual system.

These improvements significantly indicate a transformation in the 3D printing technology’s efficiency and practicality for a variety of high-demand uses.

Advanced Metal Additive Manufacturing and Accessible Selective Laser Sintering for Small-Scale Manufacturing

I recently had the opportunity to explore the advanced metal 3D printing technologies and accessible Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) systems offered by 3D Systems.

The DMP Flex 350 Triple, a metal 3D printer, stood out with its unique features. Notably, it has an auto-latching door and an enhanced heat and gas flow balance, ensuring optimal productivity. The system measures 350 by 350 by 350 mm. The three lasers it possesses enable the efficient use of material—a critical aspect considering the high cost of metal materials. The design of DMP Flex 350 Triple is aimed at achieving first-time print success with a strong emphasis on material longevity and reusability.

The growing interest in small-scale SLS technology was evident. 3D Systems’ contribution to this was represented by the SLS 300. Accompanying the SLS 300 was the Atmosphere Generator, Water Jet Cabinet, and the soon-to-be-released Powder Recycling Station (PRS).

Johnson pointed out the appeal of the system to beginners and larger firms looking to expand their printing abilities. He argued, “This is a way to help them expand their print lab within the firm.” On the subject of the printer’s accessibility, Johnson emphasized its attractiveness to both experts and non-experts, stating, “It is not just accessible to a greater number of people, but also non-experts can operate it in their hub.” The system’s compactness and integrated features, such as the mentioned nitrogen generator and Powder Recycling Station, make it an efficient solution for maximizing lab space. The system is built for user-friendliness and efficiency, with software that adapts print tasks within the machine’s capabilities.

The discussion at Formnext 2023 demonstrated 3D Systems’ dedication to further developing 3D printing technology, thereby making it more accessible and efficient for a broader spectrum of users and applications. Johnson’s observations underline the company’s concentration on innovation, user-centric design, and market expansion in the 3D printing sector.

Explore all the 3D Printing Industry coverage from Formnext 2023.

What does the future of 3D printing for the next ten years hold?

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