Introducing its newest industrial 3D printing system, industry leader EOS was well set up for a very busy showing at RAPID + TCT. While last year at the event, EOS North America President Glynn Fletcher and I mainly focused our chat on metals, a segment where EOS certainly shines and RAPID had a spotlight, this year we discussed more on the polymer side. Speaking with Fletcher and Strategic Account Manager Stephanie Kochbeck offered additional insights into the entire additive journey that the company enables.
As the industry grows, EOS is taking note and adapting accordingly. The long-standing participant continues to see major potential reflective of both overall industry trends and its unique positioning.
“We are doing very well currently, with the growth trajectory everyone is enjoying, and doing perhaps better than some,” Fletcher told me as we touched on industry and company performance.
“We are proud of what we’ve accomplished, technically and with integration. As a market leader, we provide infrastructure and support; we give our customers all we can, including things in support of technology rather than just technology itself. We have the M400-4 and P-810 here; neither would be as successful as they are, or will be, without the support structure in place to take away intimidation.”
This support structure was a throughline in our conversation, as it is a throughline in strategic approach for EOS. For a company to differentiate itself in an ever-widening sea of hardware offerings, end-to-end business strategies are necessary. Fletcher and Kochbeck underscored the importance of communication and availability for the team in working to advance adoption and empower users. Through Additive Minds and Life Cycle Solutions, EOS offers important tools “for customers to tap into” including advice and support, as a lack of access to expertise can significantly inhibit adoption; EOS, Fletcher noted, is addressing that through these company groups. For both metals and polymers, he continued, EOS has a large portfolio available and so has “a lot of resources in place to keep growing.”
Stephanie Kochbeck at EOS’ Additive Mile
During the morning keynotes, RAPID + TCT attendees participated in several on-the-spot polls to gauge usage, opinions, and projections for the industry. During the first morning, results showed that a significant portion of conference attendees were primarily interested in production applications. This, Kochbeck said, was not surprising.
“The P-810 was developed with production in mind,” she continued.
“We are really focused on more production, and so this is a unique, novel machine; the only one on the market for high-temperature polymers with these capabilities. For materials, we launched the HT-23 with the P-810; it is a compounded material with carbon fibers. Every material grain has carbon fiber in it, because it is compounded. This causes isotropic behavior, which is key especially for aerospace.”
Aerospace is among the key industries in focus for adoption of additive manufacturing, and EOS is well aware of the needs for demanding applications. Collaborating with companies including Arconic, GKN, and Oerlikon gives EOS access to and better understanding of a variety of uses.
The new material, for example, was designed to be what Fletcher referred to as a “true substitute for aluminum, designed for additive manufacturing,” as “PEKK is a high-performance polymer not only heat- but chemical-resistant,” which is, Kochbeck added, an inherent quality, as the flame retardance is not caused by additives. This heat resistance also offers the capability for sterilization, allowing for use in medical applications, such as reusable instruments.
“This is a really good alternative to metal instruments; it’s reusable, which is usually the benefit of metal instruments,” Fletcher noted.
He continued, noting that the company is “doing a lot in polymer and metallic spaces” and that collaborations have been key to ongoing work. Relationships with major polymer chemical companies, including Eastman, are enhancing positioning for versatile offerings.
“We see applications with volume and production potential, so there is a lot of time and effort going into developing materials,” he said.
“It’s always about potential.”
Keeping to the theme of collaboration, we looked around to the surrounding environment. While a decade ago RAPID was “more like a flea market,” this show is now an important vehicle for participants in this industry. Acknowledging the competitive nature of the business, Fletcher noted as well that, “For me, the goal is not to beat the people in this room; the point is with the people in this room, we should be winning business from casting, from foundries, from subtractive manufacturing.” Casting in particular offers “a lot of variations” for need, and he pointed to the fact that if even 10% of that industry can be disrupted, additive manufacturing has a $16 billion opportunity in that application area alone, representing a major increase from current business levels.
“We think we’re doing a great job, and making a lot of progress — there is still huge potential we can exploit,” he said.
In looking at the path EOS has to walk, Kochbeck pointed to the representation the company has developed of the 3D pringing journey: the Additive Mile.
Visitors to the booth can physically walk the route to understand application development with additive manufacturing. This, she explained, encompasses steps from IDing the application to scaling for production as the company continues to focus on applications.
“It’s not always easy as the customer to know how to get from A to Z. We’re here, helping you on your way, depending on the phase you’re in,” she said.
The stages of EOS’ Additive Mile include:
FindYour Application: part screening to identify the proper applications to introduce additive manufacturing
Develop Your Application: part design iterations and development of the application
Ramp-Up Your Production: increase production with additive manufacturing
Certify and Scale Your Production: certifying and scaling up a highly efficient additive manufacturing chain
EOS has walked a long path to its current state of leadership, as Fletcher noted that the company is now in its 28th year and has seen a great deal in those decades of business. The first thousand EOS systems took 20 years to sell; the second thousand took five years; the third thousand took just two years. Now, he said, the company is in a position where they can supply 1,000 systems per year. The gradual, accelerating growth has been built up over time through enhanced infrastructure.
Following our walk through the Additive Mile, Kochbeck and I watched a minute of the P-810 in action. One bright side of the new polymer technology, we agreed is that it’s also just a lot more fun to watch than other polymer 3D printing processes, as the carbon fiber adds a cheery spark to the process. However advanced an application, there’s always an underlying sense of simple satisfaction in watching genuinely cool technology at work.
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[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]