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Think 3D Printing is Not for You? Think Again!

3D printing was one of six focused areas at drupa 2016. Most printing operations are probably wondering how this can apply to their businesses. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne has some ideas to share that will shed light on the subject.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: July 12, 2016

The folks at Messe Düsseldorf did a nice job of organizing focused topic areas at drupa that helped attendees Touch the Future. The six topics included:

  • Print
  • Packaging Production
  • Multichannel
  • Green Printing
  • 3D Printing
  • Functional Printing

We’ve written about most of the other areas in detail. This article will focus in on 3D printing. Most printers I speak to tell me that 3D printing doesn’t apply to them, and before drupa, I probably would have begrudgingly agreed.

3D printing, called Additive Manufacturing outside of our industry, has been primarily targeted at the manufacturing industry. It is a means of affordably creating small lots of parts or items, mock-ups and test parts. It can also be used to create complex parts that would be difficult, expensive or impossible to create any other way. In our article late last year about HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology, Steve Nigro cited the fact that GE’s CFM LEAP aircraft engines will have 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles in the combustion system that could not be made any other way. They will be 25% lighter than predecessor parts and comprised of one part instead of 18; they will also feature more intricate cooling pathways and support ligaments that are expected to result in 5X higher durability versus conventional manufacturing. And we also recently read in Phys.org about an Airbus 3D printed mini aircraft that used Stratasys printers.

Because there were so many interesting 3D exhibitors at the show, I am going to spend a small amount of column space on three pieces of general 3D news that I thought were especially interesting.  But read on, because there were at least four companies who were showing 3D printing solutions or technologies specifically targeted at the graphic arts industry that will offer up some fascinating market differentiation for printing businesses.  We’ve already spoken with some printers who have taken advantage of this new business opportunity, and believe me, it is real!

HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing

HP launched its 3D printing solution at the additive manufacturing conference RAPID in May, and initially was not planning on bringing a unit to drupa. But they ultimately did, and it was a big draw in Hall 17.  HP claims the printer is 10X faster and half the cost of its nearest competitor, largely due to its ability to print parts at the voxel level – a voxel is the 3D equivalent of a 2D pixel – a capability HP claims no one else has that is key to the breakthrough nature of this printer. Fully loaded, it is expected to be in the $200,000 range, and the company is already taking orders. A less expensive model, in the $130,000 range, will be available next year.

Kodak and Carbon3D

Kodak announced a partnership with Silicon Valley firm Carbon3D. There was a mesmerizing video of the Carbon3D process running in the Kodak stand, and it appears to be a very different approach from everyone else. It is able to 3D print parts with mechanical properties and surface finish like injection-molded plastics. It uses a Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) photochemical process that balances light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts. It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin. As a sequence of UV images are projected, the part solidifies and the build platform rises. This is something you have to see to believe!  A more detailed demo can be found here. Interestingly, they are selling this printer on an annualized subscription basis.

XAAR Heads Set to Revolutionize 3D Printing

Xaar introduced new 3D print heads that will deliver 10 to 100X speed than current solutions. The target is to replace injection molding as well as to make parts that couldn’t be made before. Its technology has now been licensed by a number of OEMs. It will be worthwhile to follow the company’s progress in this space.

Using 3D Printing for Graphic Arts Applications

MASSIVit 3D

For me, this was the star of the 3D show. The CEO of this Israeli company, Avner Israeli, came out of Scitex Vision so understands our industry, and then spent time at Stratasys. The printer, which has the option of having two print heads, uses a gel that is instantly cured as each layer is applied, meaning that for most objects, there is no need for supports that have to be removed after the object is printed. And it can print quite large objects. The objects are also hollow, making them lightweight for shipping or other purposes. The base is white, so the objects do need to be painted.

Carisma Large Format Printing in New York is an example of how this technology presents opportunities for a graphic arts service provider. The company produces bus and truck wraps and needed an innovative bus wrap idea to help Sony promote the Angry Birds movie. He integrated 3D and 2D, making the bird and the movie title in 3D with lights behind them.  Sony loved the result!  You can see a brief video here.

Carisma CEO Moshe Gil told me that since installing the printer, he has been so busy he doesn’t even have time to make samples! While he was waiting for delivery, he purchased a smaller 3D printer and hired a 3D designer to get a head start on better understanding 3D printing, file requirements, etc.

I was told that the printer with two print heads sells for less than $500,000. Consumables must be purchased from MASSIVit.  In North America, the company is represented by Prisco Digital.

Konica Minolta, 3D Systems and Z-Verse

While I am sure that Konica Minolta is developing its own 3D printer solution, the company chose to partner with 3D Systems to get a jump on market entry, and its sales people are selling these printers. The company took it an extra step by also partnering with ZVerse, a 3D printing service bureau. For print service providers, this offers a couple of different ways to get in the game.  You can invest in a 3D printer. Or you can work with ZVerse to build the business before doing so.  The latter requires no investment, and ZVerse can produce 3D objects from 2D images, so there is not much of a learning curve to get started, either. Gavin Jordan-Smith, vice president at Konica Minolta U.S., brought me a 3D image of myself that was produced from a photo and it’s very cool indeed! Education is a key market for Konica Minolta in placing 3D Systems printers. And ZVerse has been working with a variety of companies, including some Sir Speedy franchises, to produce promotional and gift items.

Mimaki Brings a Unique 3D Printing Approach

Mimaki is in the development stage with its 3D offering but was talking it up at the show. Mike Horsten, Mimaki’s General Manager of Marketing in EMEA, explained that the company, as a manufacturer of 2D printers, has chosen to develop a product that connects into the graphic arts business. “Before vacuforming mold mass production, or before producing large runs of point-of-sale or other signage,” he says, “these printers can be used to produce the 3D elements in smaller runs for testing purposes. But they can also be used to produce smaller sized projects.” The Mimaki printer will print in full CMYK color, and will print solid objects. On display at the show was a hand that could be used for medical education purposes that could have colorations all the way through, including showing the veins. Inks are quite flexible, so the fingers could be flexed back and forth without damaging the piece.

The Mimaki offering, which will be available sometime next year, uses a jettable gel. In addition to CMYK, the gel is available in white and clear. It uses UV heads and UV lamps to immediate cure each layer.  The way Mimaki is addressing the issue of needing to remove supports after the object is printed is to use a water soluble eco-friendly support gel. “Once the object is printed,” Horsten says, “you simply rinse away the support gel with tap water and the object is ready to go. One of the cool things about the support gel is that if you want to print a sphere, say the Earth, you start by printing two to three layers of support gel, meaning that the globe is perfectly spherical with no indication of where printing began or ended.”

While pricing has not yet been established, Horsten expects it to be “mid-range.” The company plans to show the printer at FESPA in 2017.

Shaping the Future with Highcon

Highcon was showing the Highcon Shape as a technology demonstration. This is another very unique approach that uses paper to build 3D objects or molds. For example, the company was showing a chair and a wine rack that were made of paper layers. They also showed a unique one-off cement bench featuring intricate designs that was created using the same concept, but with a mold produced at Highcon customer Skitza Print in partnership with Eco Concrete using a Highcon Euclid with a dedicated 3D modeling workflow. According to Highcon, this piece would have been exorbitantly expensive and time-consuming to produce any other way, and took just three weeks from concept to completion. The Highcon Shape (or the Euclid with a 3D modeling workflow) is a very unique offering that can easily fit into a printing operation. It’s a great way to use up makeready waste!

Printing on 3D Objects

This was another hot topic, and perhaps more immediately relevant to printing operations and it bears mentioning here.  Mimaki has been printing high quality images on cylindrical objects for quite some time with the Kebab option for its UJF-3042HG and UJF-6042 printers. We saw it in action at drupa printing on wine bottles (and even scored a bottle of wine!). It’s quite impressive.  It’s been used for a variety of applications, including printing directly on cosmetics bottles around the holidays in places like department stores such as Harrods in London, and in many airports around the world.

Xerox was also showing this capability with its Direct to Object Inkjet Printer capable of printing on objects as small as bottle caps and as large as football helmets and shoes with very impressive quality. There is a brief description and image in this blog post.

And Heidelberg has entered the fray with what they call 4D printing – The Omnifire 250 can print in one to four colors with an optional protective coating on object sizes up to 20” wide by 40” long. We saw a variety of printed objects, including hockey sticks.

The Future Is … Well … Dimensional

So there is a lot happening in the world of 3D and there are many opportunities for almost any printing company to take advantage of these new potential services and revenue streams.  We hope this article has inspired you to look a little further into the 3D domain as you think about the future of your business!

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.

 

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