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Business Opportunities

3D Print

Although 3D print is still seen by some as a foreign concept, others have successfully moved into the market. Rob Fletcher looks at opportunities for growth in this innovative sector

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French company Metropole used a Massivit 1800 to create an ultra-realistic, full-size triceratops to promote a palaeontology exhibition at a museum in Paris

Enter a new dimension

There is no doubting the level of innovation in the 3D print market. Almost every week, we hear news of how innovators around the world are using this type of technology to create all sorts of weird and wonderful applications—from homes and offices, through to artificial reefs and human organs.

While all of this may be true, where do traditional print companies stand on the subject of 3D print? Is it a market they can expand into, or is it a sector that is too distant from conventional print methods to consider a growth opportunity?

Here, we speak with some of the top manufacturers active in the 3D print market to find out not only the types of technology required to make a successful move into the sector, but how traditional print service providers (PSPs) should go about expanding their business into foreign lands.

Exciting opportunities

Mimaki is a familiar name that has been making headway in 3D print and has enjoyed early success with its 3DUJ-553 UV inkjet resin 3D printer. Launched last summer, the machine promises a “brand-new approach to 3D printing”, serving as, at present, the only device of its kind with the ability to print more than 10 million colours.

Mimaki’s 3DUJ-553 UV can print products for use across signs and display graphics, education, healthcare, manufacturing, architecture and construction

Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in the UK and Ireland, says technology such as the 3DUJ-553 presents the 3D print market as an “exciting” opportunity for PSPs.

“3D printing is an exciting new area for trade printers to enter into, with many of their existing customers already having a need for 3D printed applications,” he explains, adding: “3D printing is here to stay and it’s a great time for forward-thinking and pioneering print companies to enter into this market as it grows.

“Mimaki’s history and pedigree with colour reproduction has placed the firm in a strong position for developing the world’s first 3D printer with over 10 million colours, enabling the production of 3D objects, eliminating time-consuming finishing and the risk of damaging small detailed parts.”

Other major features of the 3DUJ-553 include water-soluble support material, which the manufacturer says can be easily washed off without damaging the object. This, according to Mimaki, enables the cost-effective production of exquisite 3D printed products with elaborate finishing, making it suitable for producing applications across signs and display graphics, education, healthcare, manufacturing, architecture and construction.

Newman adds: “We would strongly encourage print providers to come and talk to us about this exciting new technology or visit our showroom to see the Mimaki 3DUJ-553 in action. 3D printing is the new dimension in print and companies need to embrace it, rather than risk being left out.”

Fourth industrial revolution?

Another leading brand in this market is HP, which recently unveiled brand new technology that could open up more opportunities in 3D print. In September, the firm launched HP Metal Jet, which it has billed as the “world’s most advanced 3D printing technology for the high volume manufacturing of production-grade metal parts.

HP believes that its new Metal Jet technology will support a "digital industrial revolution" that is transforming the manufacturing industry

According to HP, Metal Jet will provide up to 50 times more productivity at a “significantly lower cost” than other 3D printing methods. Manufacturing giants GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech are now deploying the technology for the factory production of final parts, for customers such as Volkswagen and Wilo.

Although it is not yet clear how much of an opportunity this will offer to PSPs in terms of taking on work, HP’s commitment to development in this market can only be good news for those seeking to expand into 3D print work.

Dion Weisler, chief executive and president of HP, seemingly backs this up by saying: “We are in the midst of a digital industrial revolution that is transforming the $12tn (£9.12tn) manufacturing industry. HP has helped lead this transformation by pioneering the 3D mass production of plastic parts and we are now doubling down with HP Metal Jet, a breakthrough metals 3D printing technology.”

HP believes that its new Metal Jet technology will support a “digital industrial revolution” that is transforming the manufacturing industry

The HP Metal Jet boasts a bed size of 430 x 320 x 200mm, as well as four times the nozzle redundancy and twice the printbars of comparable technology, HP says. From the first half of next year, customers can begin uploading 3D design files and receive industrial-grade parts from the Metal Jet Production Service, delivered by HP partners GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech.

HP says its Metal Jet technology can be used in the 3D print production of car parts and counts VW as one of its first customers

Weisler adds: “The implications are huge; the auto, industrial, and medical sectors alone produce billions of metal parts each year. HP’s new Metal Jet 3D printing platform unlocks the speed, quality, and economics to enable our customers to completely rethink the way they design, manufacture, and deliver new solutions in the digital age.”

O Factoid: Although still a relatively new concept, additive manufacturing equipment and materials for 3D print were developed as far back as the 1980s .O

Competitive advantage

Although perhaps not the most familiar name in the wider printing market, one firm that has made great progress in 3D print is Massivit 3D. Isabelle Marelly, worldwide director of marketing, says 3D printing is “most certainly” a viable option for traditional print companies due to the huge benefit it provides.

Marelly expands: “When trying to unlock the door to new business, companies are now frequently turning to 3D printing as a solution. The printing industry is undoubtedly a difficult environment in which to operate in.

The Massivit 1500 is the smaller version of the 1800

“The constant need for high-impact applications to be delivered faster and cheaper than the next provider will continue to be integral to winning the jobs, one which is aided by the utilisation of 3D printing.

“According to our customers, 3D printing not only enables them to expand their product offering but it also allows them to increase their revenue streams within the existing 2D market as their customers regard them as printing pioneers.”

Building on this, Marelly says 3D printing allows traditional PSPs to add a “new dimension to their product portfolio, as well as enhance existing 2D applications with high-impact 3D models that “go above and beyond” the expectations of brand managers, advertisers, and design agencies.

 Metropole used Massivit technology to create this giant hand

Marelly cites the example of Australian specialist 3D print provider SEEN Technology, which constructed what is believed to be the world’s first 3D-printed pop-up retail store for luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton. The 9m-wide, 10m-long and 2.7m-high structure was 3D printed in under 18 days and served to promote the company’s latest menswear range at Sydney’s Westfield shopping centre. 

In terms of how other PSPs can also take on such work, Marelly draws attention to the company’s flagship Massivit 1800 3D print machine. The device is able to produce premium models up to 1.8m high, making it suitable for applications such as advertisements and displays. The Massivit 1800 also has dual printheads and has the capacity to double production and allows PSPs to output two objects simultaneously.

Marelly puts forward the example of French company Metropole, which used its Massivit 1800 to create an ultra-realistic, full-size triceratops to promote a palaeontology exhibition at a museum in Paris. For the project, the company combined eight individual 3D-printed components to bring the 1.8m-wide, 2.33m-long and 3m-high dinosaur to life in just two days.

Aside from the Massivit 1800, the company has recently introduced its latest solution in the form of the Massivit 1500 Exploration 3D printer. Designed for print shops of all sizes, the Massivit 1500 expands the accessibility of large-format 3D printing and, according to Marelly, allows users to sharpen their competitive edge and subsequently their profit margins.

Marelly expands: “Our customers are constantly aiming to expand their horizons and push creative boundaries with unique applications. These include large POP or POS displays, captivating soft signage and props, channel lettering and cost-effective and high-endurance moulds for thermoforming — applications which can really turn heads and create a huge buzz for all types of projects, exhibitions or events.”

Although a technology still in its relative infancy, 3D print has already caused a major stir in industries around the world and, from what manufacturers have said, there is much more to come. For PSPs, it all comes down to whether they have the relevant knowledge, as well as the kit, to include such services as part of their offering.

Some continue to state that 3D print is too far apart from traditional printing to be considered as part of the industry, but the manufacturers here seem to think differently. Both Mimaki and Massivit have argued heavily in favour of 3D print serving as a realistic expansion market for traditional print companies, and as this technology continues to evolve, opportunities for growth and expansion will become more apparent for PSPs.


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