3Dealise featured in New Design

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Key players from across the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry give their take on the state of the sector

 

What a few years it has been for 3D printing. Reported on everywhere from The Economist to Vogue, from Newsnight to Newsround, the technology has certainly burst into the public’s consciousness.

3D printing has been heralded as a life saver – in the printing of medical implants for example – as well as a danger to the fabric of society – remember the furore around the 3D-printable handgun? But what is the story behind the headlines and the hyperbole? What is the true state of the 3D printing market? Are we right to be excited by the sector’s apparently meteoric rise? Or does this hype disguise some significant challenges ahead?

In search of answers, New Design spoke to a number of key industry voices in 3D printing and additive manufacturing from companies across the sector. As you can see from the responses, generally speaking our contributors were very pleased with the pace of growth in the sector, or felt that it had at least met expectations. Speed and expense of print were the most commonly cited obstacles to further adoption of the technology, whilst multi-material capability was often identified as 3D printing’s next key technology frontier.

 

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Roland Stapper, managing director, 3Dealise

We are a full service 3D engineering and 3D printing company focussed on rapid manufacturing for industrial applications. Our projects include giant pump impellers weighing over three tons, life-size complex works of art, extremely precise satellite dishes for space research, and small energy-efficient and lightweight engine blocks. Our range of capabilities is unique in northern Europe.

We provide a full service concept including engineering if required, so that we can also serve clients who don’t have extensive CAD and manufacturing technology expertise.


Has the market’s uptake of 3D printing and associated technologies been as swift as you had anticipated?

Our company launched in 2014 and our growth has been phenomenal. 3D printing in an industrial context, like we provide, is scarce in the market and many clients looking for solutions have managed to find us, and more find us every day.

At the same time, we see that a huge shift in thinking is still required before companies can fully benefit from the new possibilities that 3D printing offers. In many companies, 3D printing only comes up as a manufacturing option after product design has taken place. That is much too late in the process.

Mass-customisation supported by 3D printing allows companies to shift from large series of low-margin identical products, to large volumes of high-margin customised products. It is also possible to slash the entire supply chain by 3D printing at localised facilities. Such fundamental business model changes start in the boardroom and impact throughout an organization. The whole organization should be involved and there is a journey ahead for many organizations to get people educated and engaged.


What are the potential barriers to the development of additive manufacturing technology and the growth of the sector?

Building a broad understanding among designers and engineers of the possibilities and economics of 3D printing will be a journey. To really grasp what structures and designs are possible now, that were inconceivable before, takes experience and time. 3D printing brings a completely new set of economic tenets – product complexity is no longer a major cost factor, whereas product size and weight have become key factors. Growth of 3D printing will be linked to this learning curve.

Another challenge is that professional 3D printing technologies are currently too expensive for mass adoption, and prices are coming down slowly. Professional 3D printers, such as our largest printer, cost over a million pounds, and maintenance and consumables come on top of that. Many suppliers of professional systems monopolise the consumables market and charge excessive prices. That prevents or slows down mass adoption of 3D printing for mainline production.

Product certification is a further challenge. Many organizations rely on product certificates such as Lloyds 3.1 for their Health and Safety regulations, but 3D printed products generally don’t qualify for such a certificate. This is a potential barrier to adoption that needs to be addressed.


What is the next frontier for the sector?

The multi-material challenge is a big one. How great would it be, if we could print a plastic product with an integrated metal frame and electrical wiring in one go?

Another challenge is the gap between the 3D printing step and the final product – often several processing steps are required such as machining and/or polishing. It would be a major advantage, if the need for those steps would be taken away, or if they could be combined at the same machine.

 

Case study: One of our clients is an artist who calls himself a digital sculptor – he designs ‘sculptures’ on a computer. He has been doing that for over a decade, but many of his digital creations could not be created in reality. He was an early adopter of 3D printing in plastic, but he really wanted to make giant metal sculptures that can be placed in a museum garden. We worked with him first to use 3D printing to produce metal prototypes up to 30 cm to demonstrate the art of the possible. He was very pleased with the results, and we will soon unveil a two-metre high metal sculpture weighing over 500kg, that is fit for a museum garden.

 

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