We are now into the final day TCT Japan in Tokyo, so after failing to record a podcast on the first day when interrupted by the sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” (I now know this is in fact a very common thing to hear when stores, restaurants or trade shows, it seems, close), and a good two days of soaking up the exhibits on the show floor, now feels like a good time to gather some initial thoughts on our first official show in Japan.
The event, formerly known as 3D Printing Japan before relaunching with our partners JTB Communication Design last year, exceeded expectations early on with a 150% gross increase in space and more than 100 exhibitors from the additive manufacturing (AM) industry on the floor. This on top of the 12 technology trade shows taking place alongside the show at Tokyo Big Sight with an expected footfall of 50,000 visitors, makes this the premier event for design-to-manufacturing technologies in the Japanese market.
It’s always exciting venturing somewhere new but I was particularly looking forward to coming here, not just because I knew we were staying in a hotel right next to a life size Gundam statue, but because Japan is quite a juxtaposition when it comes to AM developments. As explained by one of our conference speakers Dave Burns on day one, Japan is seen as being risk averse in some areas and as a result, the rate of innovation is a little slower compared to places like the U.S. and Europe. Yet the atmosphere around the show and the numbers tell a different story – 12,000 people through the doors on day one, and according to the most recent Wohlers’ Report, Japan has the third biggest industrial AM machine install base in the world.
Major players like Materialise, Stratasys, Carbon, Autodesk and TRUMPF are all here showing new materials, software and machines, building on much of what we saw at Formnext in November last year. There are Markforged 3D printers on at least four stands, whilst its main stand remains one of the busiest in the hall. Then there are the big Japanese companies, including machine tool manufacturers like DMG Mori which has brought along its new LASERTEC 30 SLM 2nd Generation machine, and printing giant Mimaki, which introduced its “10 million” colours 3D printer last year.
Imaging giant, Nikon is here and gearing up to launch its first metal 3D printer onto the market this Spring. First introduced in 2017 and demoed last year, the “Optical Processing Machine” is built on a direct energy deposition process which is currently capable of building parts in stainless steel with a build volume of 20 x 20 x 20 cm and laser marking and welding capabilities all-in-one. The parts on display were incredibly detailed, and with what is believed to be an affordable price tag at launch, Nikon tells us the machine will be suitable for a range of industries from smaller creative businesses to industrial applications.
Ceramics is also a big trend with Japan being one of the biggest markets for industrial ceramics. Sinto, the majority shareholder for French company, 3DCeram is here demonstrating its ceramic printing technology and CERAMAKER machine. It already has two systems installed in Japan and it’s aiming to triple that number by the end of this year. Elsewhere, another company, SK Fine, founded just last year, is manufacturing its own ceramic printer here in Japan.
Tokyo-based printing company, Mutoh, is debuting a new machine on the show floor, a desktop DLP machine designed for the jewellery and dental sectors. The ML 100 is similar in size to the Formlabs Form 2 with a touch screen interface and offers a resolution up to 50 microns to capture really fine details, some of which you could only truly appreciate with a magnifying glass. In addition to its own resin and plastic-extrusion-based machines, Mutoh also offers systems from 3D Systems and HP.
There are also lots of international companies like Shanghai-based Intamsys which was is here with its low-cost desktop PEEK 3D printer, and Spanish company, Dynamical Tools, here with its Japanese partner J-Techno and a new printer, the DT60. The company said it will also be introducing an entirely new technology later this year.
From plastics to metal powders, there are a number of materials companies here too including Sanyo Special Steel which produces various steel products and now metal powders for the AM industry, all the way to HottyPolymer which offers a range of plastic filaments, including a scented material (used to print a bunch of roses, it actually works pretty well). There are also names like Sandvik which is showing its range of AM metal powders and examples of additively produced cutting tools. One particular piece for Seco Tools shows a coolant clamp which attaches to the cutting edge of industrial turning heads. Produced with Osprey maraging steel, the clamp features an improved design with curved internal channels to improve coolant flow to the cutting edge. Sandvik has been in Japan for decades and the team told us, though additive isn’t a huge market here just yet but it is a growing one.
While innovation on machine development may appear to be slow – though read our Head of Content, Dan O’Connor’s blog on Japan’s history with 3D printing and you’ll find it’s not quite that simple – we are seeing high levels of adoption on the show floor with a number of more traditional manufacturing companies offering AM as a service.
Toray Precision, part of the global materials company, Toray Group is demonstrating a range of metal parts printed with powder bed fusion. Toray is offering the entire process as a service by combining contract AM, materials expertise and precision finishing solutions for a range of industrial applications. The company also had an interesting case study on display showing a 3D printed pre-collimator (a structure which shields measuring apparatus from stray light) for a solar observation rocket created as part of a joint research project between several Japanese and U.S. universities and NASA.
Further down the hall, casting and prototyping company, Kai Wai, has been using metal 3D printing since 2012 when it installed its first Arcam machine. It recently expanded its capabilities with the first installation of a Concept Laser X LINE 2000R large format 3D printer in Japan.
Busting the innovation myth even further, there are a lot of research institutes and universities here such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute and the Joining and Welding Research Institute Osaka University, which has developed a new blue laser printing technology capable of printing challenging materials such as copper and potentially gold.
As someone who spends a lot of time roaming trade show floors, I find myself looking at same sample pieces and case studies time and time again. However it has been refreshing to see a number of different examples including many from Japanese designers and manufacturers.
Along with end-use parts manufactured for Ford, which we reported on last week, on the Carbon stand, there are some unique examples including a 3D printed pollution mask and flexible watch straps showing the company’s ever expanding material chemistries. Moreover, and fitting to our visit to Tokyo’s gaming district earlier this week, over on the Polymaker stand, the team were showing an entire board game 3D printed with its PolySmooth material for Infinite Dimensions, a company which offers 3D printable items for RPG style games.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of this stuff to geek out on for sure, but that doesn’t mean industrial parts aren’t also in abundance with everything from printed lattice structures for rockets to vibrant medical models just metres away.
There are only a few hours left until the show floor closes and the crowds are still not letting up. While racking up my step count, I’ve spoken with many international exhibitors this week about their perspectives on the Japanese AM market. For many it’s their first year with a local partner or they’ve just started selling machines over here, and though it’s still early days, the general feeling is that this is a growing market.
For every name here that I wasn’t already familiar with, there is another that I’ve seen many times before, names that are already on items and machines in your office or on your factory floor, like DMG, like Mimaki. The foundations are here, the infrastructure (as we discussed in yesterday’s podcast) is here, and the enthusiasm and interest in the technology, from what we’ve seen on the show floor, is certainly here too.