At last month's EuroMold 2014, the world's largest 3D printing conference, Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) displayed a deconstructed jet fuselage so attendees could see the many ways in which the company's 3D printing technology is well suited for aerospace applications. During the conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany, Motley Fool 3D printing specialist Steve Heller had the opportunity to interview Fred Fischer, director of fused deposition modeling and PolyJet applications at Stratasys, about the company's position in the aerospace market.
While much of the talk regarding 3D-printed aerospace materials has focused on metal 3D printing, which Stratasys doesn't currently offer, investors should know the company can cater to the aerospace industry through its existing portfolio of plastic-based 3D printers.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: We're standing right next to a jet fuselage. I wonder if you could talk to me a little bit more about this, and what's going on here.
Fred Fischer: What this is for us is what we call our application and technology showcase. In this aircraft, we are representing how additive manufacturing [3D printing] is used throughout the design, through manufacturing space.
Inside here we have examples of concept models that are used just to test the form and fitment of various components, primarily for the plastic components inside of this airline theater, but also we have parts that have been printed in durable thermoplastic materials that show how we can be used for functional testing -- not just testing form and fit, but the functionality of the design as well.
In addition to that, we also show many of the manufacturing-related applications. The metal legs of the actual seat mechanism, that's been created via a sand-casting process, and the master pattern from that sand cast was actually made with a [Statasys] PolyJet pattern.
It highlights that when the direct output from our technology can't meet the application need of the customer, very frequently we help them get to a part that does have the properties of either metal, composites, or plastic by indirectly creating it -- in other words, creating a tool to get them to the final product.
That's three out of the four things you see here. Finally, we show a number of examples in the upper part of the fuselage. On the walls, you'll see the panels that were printed in ULTEM material [a resin] from the FDM [fused deposition modeling] technology, as well as in the upper chaseway there's HVAC ducting or airflow ducting, as well as clips that mount and organize the wires.
These are examples of how our technology is being used as a final, finished good or an end-use part in the aerospace industry.
Heller: That was my next question. What is Stratasys' role currently in the aerospace industry? Is it going beyond testing prototypes and figuring out functioning models? Is it actually flying in the skies?
Fischer: Without a doubt. Aerospace represents one of the most strategic verticals to Stratasys, and we absolutely have traction in that marketplace.
Today, as you mentioned, we're being used not only for prototyping-related applications -- form and fitment -- both in the military as well as the commercial space, but also finished goods or manufacturing-related applications, so either directly producing a part and being used in the product, or indirectly producing a tool or a pattern that gets them to a part with the final properties that they need.
That's happening today all the way from unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] through commercial airliners or commercial jets that have passengers in them. In general, where we fit best are where the requirements are low to moderate and the volumes are relatively low.
In a commercial airliner, the examples that we're showing here of the ducting in the ceiling and the electrical clips are great examples of where we're used in the commercial space. They're noncritical flight components, sometimes that are hidden behind the panels in the fuselage.
On the other end of the spectrum, on the UAV end of the spectrum, we actually have companies who are directly printing many of the flight-critical components for the UAV on a 3D printer or production system, and then putting that vehicle into service. We really span that entire range or gamut, if you would
Heller: That's quite a bit, actually.
Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.