Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of hype – and new developments – in the field of 3D printing. It’s also called additive manufacturing because most 3D printing processes lay down layers of material – typically plastic, but also metals, ceramics, and more – to build a product or part. 3D printing is even used to produce artificial body parts – think teeth, joints, and even soft organs. It is a means of affordably creating small lots of parts or items, mock-ups, or iterative design models. It can also be used to create complex parts that would be difficult, expensive, or impossible to create any other way.
For example, 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 percent 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 five-times higher durability versus conventional manufacturing.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably asking yourself: What does this have to do with me? The truth is, you are not likely to be manufacturing airplane parts. But there are already many opportunities for 3D printing in the graphic arts, engineering, design, and related industries, with more to come.
Konica Minolta has seen this opportunity. The company has partnered with 3D Systems, and some of Konica Minolta’s dealers are having success in selling 3D printers into industries such as manufacturing and education. For the latter, 3D printing at even the primary and secondary levels is making its way into the curriculum.
The other interesting thing that Konica Minolta has done is to partner with ZVerse, a 3D printing service bureau. For someone who has used only a 2D printer, it can be complex moving into 3D printing. It requires a whole new skill set including, at a minimum, 3D design. But what if you could just send someone a file of your 2D image and have a 3D piece produced? That’s exactly what ZVerse does. In fact, my friends at Konica Minolta used this service to create Mini-Me from a photo. Here, you can see my Mini-Me relaxing poolside – since I never have enough time to do that myself!
While ZVerse serves a variety of industries, including retail and architecture, the company also services 2D printing service operations as well, including some Sir Speedy shops. These print service providers are producing all kinds of things for customers, who in turn are using them to generate new revenue streams as they learn about 3D printing. For example, a Florida boat dealer offers 3D boat models featuring the dealer’s name and the name of the boat the customer just purchased. Another great opportunity lies in producing 3D objects for education that are too complex to produce in the classroom.
The deal with ZVerse gives Konica Minolta and its dealers the option of bundling ZVerse’s LAYR software with the 3D printers it sells, making the transition to 3D printing easier for the customer. Or, Konica Minolta dealers can resell ZVerse’s services to customers not yet ready to buy a 3D printer of their own.
At drupa 2016 last spring, 3D printing had its own pavilion. Canon, Ricoh, HP, Kodak and others were featuring their own 3D printing solutions or those developed in partnership with others. For me, three other companies were very interesting, and had solutions (or were showing technology demonstrations) directed specifically at the graphic arts industry.
I thought this was the star of the 3D show. The CEO of this Israeli company, Avner Israeli, came out of Scitex Vision, so he understands our industry, and then spent time at 3D market leader 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. It can also print quite large objects that are 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. Carisma integrated 3D and 2D printing, making the bird and the movie title in 3D with lights behind them. Sony loved the result! You can see a brief video here. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ekgcID_Rhc]
Carisma’s 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.
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 said, “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 immediately 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 an unusual approach that uses paper to build 3D objects or molds, similar to Mcor Technologies’ Arke and Iris products. For example, the company was showing a chair that was made of paper layers, as well as a unique one-off cement bench featuring intricate designs that was created using a mold produced on the Shape. This offering can easily fit into a printing operation. It’s a great way for printers to use up make-ready waste!
Printing on 3D Objects
While it’s not exactly 3D printing, another hot topic at drupa was printing on 3D objects. These solutions might be more relevant to a graphic arts company today. Printing on 3D objects can produce all kinds of imaging and labeling on various types of objects. Think about printing directly on wine bottles to be used at a wedding or other event. Or customized perfume bottles for that very special gift, including the recipient’s name, a loving message, and your anniversary or other date. This is something that has been possible for a long time using labels, but by printing directly on the object, you have the opportunity to produce a more luxurious-looking item.
Mimaki has been printing high quality images on cylindrical objects for quite some time with the Kebab option [http://www.mimakieurope.com/products/uv/ujf-3042hg-ujf-6042-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 [https://digitalprinting.blogs.xerox.com/2016/06/02/drupa-2016-recap-week-one/#.V3bTmLgrKM8].
And Heidelberg has entered the fray with what they call 4D printing – The Omnifire 250 [https://www.heidelberg.com/global/en/products/press/digital_printing/jetmaster_dimension/product_information_49/product_information_5.jsp] 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.
Now It’s Your Turn!
There are many opportunities in 3D printing for you and your customers. It’s one more thing you can sell to printing companies or educational institutions. A 3D printer is also a nice add-on for architectural or engineering firms that want a faster way to produce models. These are just scratching the surface. But they offer ways to generate new revenue, attract new customers, and add value for your existing base. Or maybe you would prefer to start your own 3D service bureau. The sky is the limit in a 3-dimensional world. Start pushing your limits today!