3D Print 2.0 at drupa: Larger, faster, better… but what about profits?

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An entirely new sector is emerging beyond the print industry – additive manufacturing is slowly but surely becoming a new business area. Interest in this new field was therefore and understandably predominant at this year’s drupa.

3D print was well represented at drupa 2016 – as it had been back in 2012. In contrast to four years ago, interest in additive manufacturing seemed to be much more pronounced. After all, much has changed since then in terms of offering and, of course, technology: Big industry players like Canon, HP, Ricoh and Mimaki have either started developing their own 3D printers or sought out partnerships with some of the 3D print pioneers. Ricoh, for example, has developed an own 3D printer for the manufacture of functional parts. Since 2015, Canon, on the other hand, has not only started distributing the actual machines (by the manufacturer 3D-Systems) via its partner network – the print giant also offers 3D print complete solutions to support the innovation processes of business customers. The service offering includes software-based support for workflow integration on site for customers.

Small 3D Doob examples; Source: Own photographs
Small 3D Doob examples; Source: Own photographs

Back in 2012, the slow and mostly imprecise 3D printers were regarded with indulgent smiles by many of the drupa visitors; today, additive manufacturing draws a lot more interest. The reason for this increased attention is in most likelihood the realisation of the many new possibilities of this new technology for the B2C segment, which – aside from prototyping – is set to become one of the new branches for the 3D print business. In light of the generally increased interest in 3D print, 3D fab+print was conceived in 2013 in partnership with VDMA; 3D fab+print acts as an umbrella brand representing relevant 3D print suppliers at industry fairs. The 3D fab+print Touchpoint in Hall 7A offered various presentations on the technological advances in the 3D print sector, as well as numerous practical examples and live additive manufacturing at the actual Touchpoint and also next door at the Massivit stand.

What has actually happened in this segment in the past four years? What are the new developments? If I remember correctly, a popular online print market leader scrapped his “My3D” project early this year, drawing the only right conclusion from the resulting additional production effort and associated high costs. That decision alone is reason enough for me to have another, closer look at the topic against the backdrop of drupa and specifically two examples.

The Real Innovation Seekers have already confirmed Massivit 1800 as a true innovation and definitely a crowd pleaser at the fair; we might even call it a highlight when taking into account that the machine produced unusually large monochrome bodies live at the stand. Fact is that there were almost always interested parties watching Massivit 1800 producing objects with max. output dimensions of 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m (W x H x D), involving two simultaneously working print heads outputting UV-curing gel material and producing an object height of up to 35 cm per hour. These max. values can, however, only be achieved if both print heads work on the same object simultaneously. The manufacturing times increase significantly if each of the print heads works on an identical but separate object – producing two parallel prints (using one and the same printer and one print run). The proprietary GDP (Gel Dispensed Printing) technology can therefore produce an upright adult human figure in about five hours and the statue will consist of a robust, polymerised outer material. The cold gel material, which is extruded in a similar way as the FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) process, is cured directly, which means that each subsequent print layer will adhere to a solid previous layer. The following image shows the parallel manufacture of two portrait busts on the left and their possible finished appearance on the right.

Parallel manufacture of two portrait busts next to several finished examples; Source: Own photographs
Parallel manufacture of two portrait busts next to several finished examples; Source: Own photographs

Massivit 3D is the product of a joint venture between various print sector enterprises (primarily digital print), including the established industry player HP (Scitex). With their giant 3D printer, the Israel-based company targets mostly business customers, who wish to cover individual production requirements in these sizes for their own customers – the large-size 3D prints would primarily be used as eye-catchers at a POS or for prototyping in an industrial environment. The prices for Massivit 1800 will be available on request; it might also be interesting to find out how much they will cost via relevant distributors.

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“In terms of technology, the innovations in additive manufacturing are definitely interesting. However, despite the fact that established names from the graphics sector are now involved in 3D startups, I am still unable to discern a direct connection to the established printing sector.” – Bernd Zipper

Doob, who introduced their latest technology in additive manufacturing at Touchpoint 3D, has been on the market already quite a while. Visitors showed most interest in Doob scan technology, which allows the measurement of individuals and/or objects in 3D in seconds and provides the basis for an accurate output file for later 3D printing. The capture of the image for printing occurs via around 60 DSLRs in a chamber and is followed by the merging of the individual data and a digital optimisation of the file before its output. Doob offers its scanners and the entire scan technology in the B2B sector and also maintains own shops – there is one in Düsseldorf, for example. True to the motto “Doob yourself in 3D!”, customers can have an image of themselves created in various sizes and with pretty much life-like appearance. 3D figures of couples or groups can also be created.

View of the interior of the body scanner; Source: doobgroup.com
View of the interior of the body scanner; Source: doobgroup.com

For their 3D scan and later “printed self”, customers can choose from a range of sizes and prices. Anyone wearing spectacles should take into account that a sufficiently detailed print can only be achieved from a 3D print size of 25 cm or larger. The mini version of the customer will be ready to take home about three to four weeks after the visit to the shop. The illustration below shows the prices for the various sizes available for the fragile figurines; I have taken the illustration from the flyer that was handed out at drupa. The smallest printed version of a “mini me” costs €95 (10 cm) and the largest one (35 cm) will set you back €575. You can optionally add your pet or personal items of importance to your 3D portrait. Such an addition will cost at least another €50, which would bring your “Doob” in a medium size (25 cm) to over €300 and therefore an amount that most consumers would think twice about spending.

Sizes and prices for the printed “Doob”; Source: Doob flyer
Sizes and prices for the printed “Doob”; Source: Doob flyer

The resulting figurines are printed directly in colour, which means the likeness will be pretty detailed, provided your clothes come with sufficiently large patterns and high contrasts. A 100% correct rendering is, however, impossible, because the filament colours can not cover all possible original hues; the colours are usually also a lot paler than the original – corporate colours for marketing purposes can therefore not be guaranteed.

My take: These “mini mes” can – unfortunately – not be ordered online, because the file requirements for the print are very high. This type of data can only be generated using professional scan technology. Overall, interested parties definitely saw two attractive offers for additive manufacturing, the first of which was launched at drupa 2016 and the second one is an existing business model with own shops. I was still not completely convinced by 3D prints at this year’s fair, because the quality of the rendering just wasn’t good enough in either small or large scale. The process has definitely advanced in terms of technology, but a direct connection between production and established print processes is still missing. I am, however, very much interested in the area of “metal printing” – we will have a closer look at that topic in the very near future, because, thanks to new techniques, the dream “… I can print my spare part” will probably soon become reality. Let’s wait and see …

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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