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Business Opportunities

3D Printing

With the buzz around 3D printing refusing to die down, Rob Fletcher delves deeper into this market and finds out if traditional print companies can expand into the sector

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Massivit 3D, a specialist in large-format 3D print solutions, says customers are using its technology to create new types of sign and print applications

Three-dimensional opportunities

From body parts and trainers, to weapons and houses, the emergence of 3D print technology in recent years has led to the creation of many weird and wonderful applications. Although some in the print industry have moved to distance themselves from 3D print, it is becoming increasingly apparent that traditional print companies can in fact profit from this boom.

At The Print Show this year, visitors were able to gain a valuable insight into the opportunities in this sector as well as the technology on offer within the Printers’ Bazaar section of the event, with experts from the 3D print world passing on help and guidance as to how to access work in this market.

The Printers’ Bazaar at The Print Show had a special 3D Print Express area, where 3D Print Bureau showcased 3D printed products

After reports that interest in this area was high at the show, we take a look at the latest technologies on offer to print companies looking to expand, as well as find out more from market experts about the type of challenges in this market sector.

Differentiate your services

One of the leading names in 3D print is Massivit 3D Printing Technologies, which focuses on large-format solutions. Isabelle Marelly, director of marketing, says there are opportunities for traditional print companies in this sector to offer something different within the traditional print and sign markets.

“The Massivit 3D printing solution offers something different, something new,” Marelly says, adding: “It enables the creation of vibrant, eye-catching 3D printed sign and display projects beyond those that can be achieved with 2D large-format printing solutions.

“With recent studies suggesting that 3D elements incorporated into such projects have five times the stopping power and four times the staying power of 2D applications, it is clear why we are seeing an increase in the adoption of this technology.

“Beyond this, it offers the capability to unlock the door to new business. If you’re such a company, the ability to differentiate your offering and enhance your application gamut will always stand you in good stead in the quest to maintain customers and win new ones.

“After all, it goes without saying that brand and marketing managers will always be seeking to maximise their budgets with as much wow-factor as possible. The capability to offer attention-grabbing, added-value visual communications that better engage target audiences achieves this.”

Focusing in on technology, Marelly says the Massivit 1800 is the world’s first and only 3D printer specifically engineered for large-format visual communication applications. Marelly goes on to say that a number of Massivit 3D customers are using the solution to create bespoke, eye-catching 3D printed sign and display projects.

Marelly adds: “Large-format printers, retailers, and advertising and marketing companies to name a few, are now realising that they can enjoy 3D printing and can access Massivit 3D printing technology to enhance their business. With the added benefit of adding a unique element to traditional jobs, companies are offering a new dimension to their product portfolio.”

Large-format printers, retailers, and advertising and marketing companies to name a few, are now realising that they can enjoy 3D printing

Ongoing developments

One of the most exciting aspects of the 3D print market is how far manufacturers can push the technology, with new products coming to market on a regular basis.

In October, Ultimaker, a manufacturer of 3D printers, unveiled its latest product in the form of Ultimaker Cura 3.0, a new version of its slicing software.

The main benefits of Ultimaker Cura 3.0 include CAD integration, which the firm says provides “seamless” workflow integration between industry-standard CAD. It also includes updated user interface and experience design, new skin settings it says results in less strings, better top details, faster prints, and a quicker start-up speed that allows users to begin work twice as fast.

Ultimaker recently launched Ultimaker Cura 3.0, the latest version of its slicing software that offers a host of enhancements such as “seamless” workflow integration between industry-standard CAD

Paul Heiden, senior vice-president of product management at Ultimaker, says: “The option for our partners to link their plug-ins with Ultimaker Cura 3.0 unlocks endless possibilities for professionals to fully make use of their 3D printers. Businesses can now create new workflows completely tailored to their specific products.

“The solutions created by our partners will offer us valuable insights to the desires and needs of end-users, which will help to guide us in the continuous innovation of our entire ecosystem, from hardware to software, materials, and services.”

Meanwhile, 3D printing, scanning, and inspection business Europac 3D was able to complete the sale of two HP Multi Jet Fusion 4200 3D printers at the recent TCT Show. The event was the first UK trade show at which the machine was demonstrated live, and such was the positive impact of the showcase that two visitors opted to invest in the kit.

The HP Multi Jet Fusion Technology 4200 3D printer and processing station with cooling technology can, according to Europac 3D, print up to ten times faster than a competing machine, as well as offer up to 50 percent cost per part reduction.

Europac 3D showcased both technology and application examples at the TCT Show this year

John Beckett, managing director of Europac, comments: “We had a busy stand at this year’s TCT show where attendees were eagerly awaiting the chance to see one of the UK’s first HP Multi Jet Fusion printers in action, as well as a host of other industry-leading products like the Artec Leo.”

Leading brands

HP is not the only leading name in the print sector to have dabbled in 3D print. Mimaki, best known for its wide-format printing solutions, is able to offer the Mimaki 3D printer, which has been provisionally named as the 3DUJ-553 and is set to be made commercially available before the end of the year.

Mimaki expects its first 3D printer, provisionally named the 3DUJ-553, to be made available to the market before the end of 2017

Offering over ten million possible colour combinations, the 3DUJ-553 is based on Mimaki’s patented technology, with users having the ability to create translucent effects and benefit from clear ink to enhance product variations. Other features include unique support material for easy finishing, a UV-LED curing process, high dot position accuracy, and an on-board camera for live printing status.

In a statement, Mimaki says: “The Mimaki 3D printer offers an unprecedented printing experience with a number of enhancements to produce objects with high definition, fine detail, and in full colour.

“Because of Mimaki’s extensive experience in inkjet printing and based on a patent obtained by the company in 2009, the 3D printer will use a full-colour UV LED-cure method with more than ten million possible colour combinations for photorealistic output. Clear ink will be available to create translucent objects. It uses a water-soluble support material that is easy to remove, maintaining fine details.”

Another major brand from the print industry also active in 3D print is Roland DG, which has a number of options on offer. The latest comes in the form of the new Modela MDX-50, a benchtop CNC mill that Roland DG says combines “precise, automated milling and unmatched ease-of-use”.

Available from Roland DG, the new Modela MDX-50 is a benchtop CNC mill that the manufacturer says combines “precise, automated milling and unmatched ease-of-use”

Designed for short runs and prototypes, the MDX-50 can mill functional parts on a wide range of materials, including nylon, plastic foam, modelling wax, plywood, hardwood, PVC, and ABS. The Modela MDX-50 has a machining area of 400 x 305 x 135mm and can support production of large, single objects, or a batch production of smaller, multiple parts.

Other features include a built-in control panel to support usability, simplified set-up to allow users to get to work faster and easier, as well as an overall design for use in studio and educational markets. 

Meanwhile, visitors to The Print Show may have also seen the Tri-Tech 3D Team from Stanford Marsh Group in action within the 3D Print Express zone of the Printers’ Bazaar. Stanford Marsh is able to offer a wide range of 3D printers from some of the major manufacturers, including Stratasys.

One of the leading products available from Stanford Marsh is the Stratasys Fortus 900mc production 3D printer, which is billed as the most powerful FDM system currently available. With twelve real thermoplastic options and a massive build envelope, the device builds durable, repeatable parts as large as 914 x 610 x 914mm, while users have the option to nest multiple jobs or repeat print duplicate parts.

The Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D printer, available from Stanford Marsh Group, is billed as the most powerful FDM system currently available on the market

Also featured in the 3D Print Express zone was 3D Print Bureau, which is able to provide customers with a host of 3D printed applications. Visitors were able to see a number of 3D print machines as well as examples of the type of work in this market, and learn more about how they can produce such applications.

Offering advice on its website, 3D Print Bureau says: “We see the initial consultation process as a key aspect of ensuring our clients’ expectations are a reality. We work with our clients to deliver the prototype they want, with their input.

“We can help create a realistic product that not only accurately resembles your design, but is sufficiently robust to withstand testing and display requirements.”

A positive future?

Also weighing in on the discussion is DHL Supply Chain, a division of worldwide logistics company DHL. Mark Patterson, vice-president, innovation and product incubation, Europe, says developments in technology have meant 3D print is not only more widely understood, but is an increasingly commercially viable option.

Patterson expands: “Through a combination of innovation in design and reduction in costs to manufacturers, 3D printers are now affordable to consumers and businesses alike, costing roughly the same as a high end TV.  With awareness growing around this innovative technology, the implications for industry could be significant, possibly changing the face of manufacturing and logistics as we know it.”

Taking the subject to the masses, Patterson explains DHL Supply Chain asked supply chain experts whether they believed 3D printing would be adopted in the next three years—a question that produced an interesting set of results. Of those asked, 22 percent said they were confident that it would be, while 20 percent believe implementing 3D printing across the majority of supply chains would take a bit longer, becoming a reality in the next five years.

O Factoid: Although 3D printing has only recently become a subject of real interest, the first additive manufacturing equipment and materials were developed in the 1980s. O

In addition, 20 percent of respondents were unsure if or when they would be adopting 3D printing, but were interested to learn more about the process. Only eight percent felt that it currently plays a role in their supply chain, which is in line with reports that just a handful of industries have confidently adopted the method so far.
Patterson adds: “While it is without doubt a disruptive technology, 3D printing still currently has limitations, such as restrictions on materials, speed, and a lack of working knowledge—which could hinder full adoption. Despite that, 3D printing is here, and those that harness its potential and realise its impact will benefit.

While it is without doubt a disruptive technology, 3D printing still currently has limitations, such as restrictions on materials, speed, and a lack of working knowledge—which could hinder full adoption

“The implications for industry are potentially huge, and are still being realised as this technology matures, but DHL believes the developments have the potential to present some interesting opportunities for those willing to embrace the change.”

Although some remain sceptical over the relevance of 3D print in the traditional print market, it seems that there are opportunities in this market. Backed by some of the biggest manufacturers in print, as well as a host of new companies bringing technology to market, the 3D print sector only looks set to expand as more businesses get involved with this innovative service offering.

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