Originally Posted by Rebecca Flores in The Printing News
3D Print Technology was once a far fetched idea. Before the 1980’s, the technology was akin to the flying cars or the cleaning robots the Jetsons promised us. These days, this technology is transforming entire industries and leaving an imprint on our society that can never be unturned.
Don’t take our word for it. Just ask the parents of Lucy Boucher, an infant with medical complications that damaged both of her kidneys. Her father decided to donate his own kidney to her, but the difference in their body size presented a big problem. With the use of 3D technology, doctors created a printed model of Lucy’s infant body to see it could indeed fit a full-grown adult kidney. The surgery was a success. Today, Lucy is a thriving healthy child.
In 2014, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, Director of the Orthopedics Department at Peking University, printed the first vertebra implant for the orthopedic spine surgery of a 12-year-old boy with a rare bone cancer. Once again proving 3D technology is changing the way we think about age-old industries by introducing new possibilities.
But it’s not just the medical world. Students at MIT Media Lab recreated functional musical instruments. There’s also an endless amount of templates online for printing useful household objects, accessories for your car, and almost anything else you can think of. You can even find a guide on how to print a fully-functional SLR camera in 15 hours and for only $30 in parts. But today, many commercial printing business owners are still intimidated by the technology and what it can actually do for them. Even more business owners gawk at the investment in capital a 3D printer requires.
A Closer Look
To put it in layman’s terms, 3D printing allows layers of plastic filament to take shape as a print nozzle on an extended arm follows the pattern it’s been programmed to produce. After each layer, the nozzle lifts and repeats the process. The result is the product of these layers.
Scott Schiller, Global Head of Market Development, 3D Printing, at HP Inc. further explained the significance of this technology in today’s world.
“There have been massive advances in technology, economics, and applications that together are rapidly accelerating the path to industrial 3D manufacturing. We’re on the cusp of a 4th Industrial Revolution that will be among the greatest social and economic shifts in modern history. The World Economic Forum recently estimated 3D manufacturing will become a $100 trillion industry over the next 10 years. It’s truly mind-boggling.”
According to Schiller, 3D printing technology isn’t new, but the scope of its potential applications has grown tremendously in just a few years.
Why It Matters
Industry experts all agree that the question isn’t if 3D printing will be the new platform for global mass-production, it’s when.
“We’re already seeing game-changing uses and applications of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion in both consumer and industrial markets, particularly automotive, medical technology, consumer goods, electronics, heavy industry, and engineering.”
Schiller added that HP Inc.’s collaborative Open Materials Platform is unique in that it allows HP and their partners to accelerate the innovation of materials, lower prices, and create entirely new markets and uses.
Where to Begin
Kevin Sykes, President of Massivit North America, also echoed the benefits of investing in 3D manufacturing.
“With the advent of technology, Massivit introduced the Massivit 1800 Flagship 3D printer. We really took the speed of 3D printing to the next level by becoming 10x faster than the former rate,” he said.
In March of 2018, Massivit also introduced the 1500 Exploration 3D Printer, designed to provide a first step into the possibilities of large format 3D printing at an affordable price.
“Other printers use heated material that has to cool before the next layer. We can immediately print the next layer on top of the prior layer without having to wait for it to cool down using UV curing and our proprietary diamond gel technology,” Sykes explained.
As far as how commercial printers can adopt this technology?
“The number one use is adding 3D elements in general. Taking a 2D form like a logo, mascot, brand’s perfume bottle, the M&M characters, or anything like that which would have been a banner or point of purchase material, you can now print the element itself in a 3D form,” he continued.
Another area that customers are finding Massivit 3D printers for is using the printer to create molds, eliminating the the traditional method of stamping out a shape. Thermal forming can be done more cost effectively and neither of these were original applications.
“When you’re creating signage in letters, you’re often limited by how much you can bend the glass on font with certain curvature but with Massivit, you have virtually no limitations at whatever font, whatever thickness, and you can illuminate it from the inside,” added Sykes.
Where to Start
Will Thomson from Media Resources finds that 3D printing technology has undeniably brought his business to a new level. Media Resources is an integrated sign services and manufacturing company providing Large Format Printing, Digital LED Displays, 3D Fabrication and Sign Installation services to the sign and display industry. To fulfill 3D print designs, they use two BlueFrog machines and recently purchased a Massivit 1800 at ISA Expo in 2017 which has increased their range of fulfillment possibilities.
“Prior to getting into printing, we were the largest installation shop in Canada. We’ve done a ton for the billboard business and in downtown Toronto — mannequins and 3D pieces, the large horseshoe on a billboard leading into Toronto and the rear end of a Mustang for a lawyer down in Arizona,” said Thomson.
When asked what their most common applications are, letters and billboards won out.
“These days, we’re going after theaters, museums, trade shows are great for the Massivit machine because we don’t have to put a steel structure inside of it to support it,” added Thomson.
He also impressed that it’s not only the technology commercial print providers have to consider.
“You need to have the proper staff, it’s not just putting a finishing foil creative people on staff. As a portion of printing shop, 3D print orders animates the whole staff to think innovatively,” he explained.
Media Resources has approximately 8-10 people (depending on the project) that work on the 3D printing side alone and they often pull from the install side to do an aluminum structure for a structure if needed, like for a recent model of a 17-foot foot T-Rex.
“We had to call our engineers to do a drawing on what kind of structure was required, we had to put in the structure itself to make sure it resists wind, and we can utilize this team for that. It’s very important to understand wind load,” impressed Thomson.
Will The Investment Be Worth It?
Schiller added that a print shop owner doesn’t necessarily need a full staff of 10 people to pull off 3D print orders.
“If a print shop has mastered digital workflows, then a huge component of the challenge of adoption is already understood and characterized. On a base level, the similarities between industrial 2D printing and 3D printing are really striking – digital production all comes down to providing unique value as a function of better supply and demand management, or making products that were not possible before,” Schiller said.
“With respect to capital, the basic cost structures between industrial 2D and 3D look similar, but the physics of 3D printing are obviously much different and should not be underestimated when considering long-term value,” he continued. And the team at Media Resources agree. These days, they can’t keep up with requests for quotes quickly enough and the striking elements of their finished products speak for themselves.
“In terms of timing, it’s still early enough in the broad adoption of 3D printing that there’s plenty of time for learning, and plenty of competitive advantages for early adopters. This is still a nascent market space that has only scratched the surface,” Schiller concluded.
Sykes suggest those interested in 3D print technology contact someone in the 3D manufacturing arena to get their questions answered. “Like anything else, once they are famililar with the opportunities they can utilize, all of a sudden the light bulbs go off. As we are going through the conversation, it all starts out with reticence or hesitation but then when you begin talking about the applications, a multitude of ways to address customer needs and then can differentiate themselves from other needs.”
Sykes added that if a commercial print shop owner wants to look for new ways to provide value to their customers and add profit to their bottom line, they should absolutely look into 3D technology.
It’s no doubt that when it comes to this segment of the industry, you really need to think outside the box of your regular business practices. But it just may pay for itself.
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