Wandering between the massive exhibits at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago last Septem- ber, I was overwhelmed by the wild range of stout machining centers and imposing industrial robots set against backdrops of bright orange and cobalt blue. Power and precision were on
display around every corner, permeating the 1. 4 million square feet of exhibit space
at McCormick Place. Roughly 130,000 attendees jockeyed all week for their chance to
peer through tiny windows as spindles sheered steel blocks into intricate, curvy parts.
Over in the convention center’s west wing, looser crowds amassed at more modest
booths populated by every kind of 3D printer—from fused deposition modeling (FDM)
to stereolithography (SLA) to selective laser sintering (SLS)—each flanked by rows of
plastic pop culture figurines or metal octopuses with linked tentacles.
The contrast between the two sides of IMTS was stark: One industry subtracts metal
mass at astonishing haste, the other methodically build up a multitude of complex
structures layer-by-layer. But both machining tool and additive manufacturers had one
major goal: to get industry’s attention, particularly the automotive sector. And this
year it felt like 3D printing finally warranted more than the passing glance. Among
all the usual Baby Groots and dragons and Terminator skulls, these exhibitors were
actually exhibiting things of serious interest to manufacturers: real end-use parts
Climbing the Mountain
In this department, Stratasys, the originator of FDM and additive industry leader,
stood out—and not just because the booth was as big as a cell phone store. The Min-nesota-based company displayed sturdy composite parts such as a radome antenna
cover for Siemens, an engine manifold for Team Penske of NASCAR, and a satellite
door hatch cover for Lockheed Martin.
Seeing all these pieces in one place is a rare occurrence, because Stratasys—which
says it has sold more machines than any other 3D printer manufacturer—shares only
a sliver of its successful use cases.
“Our technology gives people a competitive advantage, so we usually can’t say
where,” says Pat Carey, Stratasys senior vice president of sales, when pressed about
specific manufacturers who have used the new Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition on
display in the Stratasys booth.
Showing off just isn’t Stratasys’ (or Carey’s) style.
“Stratasys is not about the hype,” he says. “We’re releasing these printers and
The company has led the space it invented ever since founder Scott Crump famously
fashioned together polyethylene and a glue gun to make his daughter a toy frog in
1989. So at this point, bragging about every time an industrial customer prints a part
would be like an assembly worker demanding praise for every finished widget.
That’s not to say additive manufacturing is so ubiquitous that the leading companies
should expect everyone to know what to expect.
“We still need to educate the customers to what’s possible,” says Carey.
And the F380mc makes a lot possible. The machine, which started shipping in
late August 2018, is a scaled down version of the Fortus 450, which Carey calls a
“Swiss Army knife” for its ability to print ABS, FDM Nylon 12CF (carbon fiber) and
ULTEM resins. The F380mc only uses the Nylon 12CF, which is 35% carbon fiber, and
another thermoplastic called ASA. The build size is slightly smaller, too: 14 x 12 x 12
in. compared to the 450’s 16 x 14 x 16 in. Those are quite reasonable concessions
considering that the F380mc costs about 75% less.
Carey says it was developed in response to customer demand and the market’s
willingness to sacrifice variety for a low-cost machine dedicated to carbon fiber. This
is perhaps the secret as to why Stratasys has been soaring for so long: Like with its
simple blue-collar origin, it exists to do the jobs that need to be done. The toy frog
was an inventive way to hold a kid’s short attention span, while lighter, tougher parts
demand manufacturers’ attention.
This is precisely where Stratasys is targeting and why it has remained at the top of
the market long after the home-printing craze fizzled out.
“There was a hype curve and then the bubble burst and people were skeptical,” Carey
says. “Now you can see people doing real things. We’re all doing real things with our
customers. So I’m very optimistic on the industry.”
Stratasys' Secret to Staying on Top
By John Hitch
The additive manufacturing giant has quietly amassed a slew of industry-ready machines that
should have manufacturers excited, even if the company avoids the hype.
Just one of Stratasys' latest industrial breakthroughs, the F120 includes an external flament
system capable of up to 250 hours of continuous printing.