3D Printing has creating an incredible opportunity for designers to bring physical products to life. Websites such as Amazon, and Etsy, and businesses of all sizes have seen an influx of true 3D products that are as good, if not better than, traditional manufacturing processes.
But there has been a problem. Most of these products are made by very small concerns and have little ability to scale. This is because the cost to create and scale a 3D printer farm that can meet large scale demand is as great, or greater, than the cost to build traditional tooling.
At Slant 3D we have been working to eliminate the barriers to bringing physical products to market. We started by building one of the largest and highest volume producing factories of 3D printed parts in the world. With this next step, we are making it easier to access and utilize that 3D printing factory.
Here is the Mason and the Onsite Program, a pipeline from prototype to production of 3D printed parts
The Mason 3D Printer
Many clients that come to Slant 3D have a product that they have been printing with traditional FDM Machines. But since they are using some consumer machine the parts they make might not be the same as the pieces produced by Slant 3D. So a few cycles of sampling and verification have to occur. Which can slow down a product launch and add expense. If they had access to a printer that gave the same results as those used in our 3D printing factory then it would eliminate that setup process.
At Slant 3D we have spent several years developing new 3D Printer technology. Working to create industrial machines that are able to be deployed by the thousands to produce 100,000's of parts for clients as an alternative to injection molding. We have become very good at making 3D Printers.
The Mason 3D printer is a prosumer machine derived from our industrial printers. With it, users are able to make prototypes at their business with a workhorse machine, and when they are ready to scale up production of those parts all they have to do is send the final design and print settings to Slant 3D and they will translate directly into the production process. Eliminating sampling, and redesigns. The Mason now makes it as easy to create a product and scale it as making an app.
When you create an app you test it on your phone. If it works there it works on most similar phones. Now, when you create a product you can build it on the Mason. If it turns out right there then it can be produced by the Thousands immediately by Slant 3D.
The Mason is now available for preorders now for $750. Shipments will begin in early June of 2019. To get more details on the specs of the Mason visit its main Page.
The 3D Printing industry suffers from a huge lack of reliability. Colors and quality of filament change. Machines and the companies that make them disappear and go out of date. We want to eliminate all of those problems.
With Onsite we provide insurance for your Mason 3D Printer. If it breaks down then we will replace it within 2 days to ensure that you are never held up in your work. We also provide a 20% discount on all of our premium filament. This is the same filament that Slant 3D uses in production. So any part made with that filament on the Mason 3D printer will be identical to the parts produced by Slant 3D. Creating a perfect pipeline from prototype to production of 3D printed products.
And if you are a business or Designer that has a high demand for 3D printing, the Onsite program with discounted filament will easily pay for the printer in under a year. And you have the added value of the manufacturing backend of the Slant 3D Factory.
Another problem that many businesses run into is simply the operation of 3D printers. Preparing a CAD file for printing is a skill unto itself. With the Onsite Business Subscription companies immediately gain access to 3D printing expertise.
To implement Onsite Business the Mason 3D printer of the business will be upgraded with cloud connectivity. Then whenever a Design needs to be printed it will be uploaded to Slant 3D and one of our experts will slice it and print it at the client's desired machine. It is like having 3D printer experts in house.
Learn More about Onsite
We are very excited about the Mason and Onsite. The are going to fundamentally change the product development process. It will no longer be a set of disjointed suppliers and experts. We have created a clear and easy path to go from prototype to production without interruption. It is now possible to create a physical product and scale it as easily as it is to create a scale digital product.
Production 3D Printing offers a low-cost-of-entry and flexible alternative to injection molding when creating new toys. Allowing designers and businesses to more readily break into the global toy market and scale up.
Toys are one of the largest markets for final plastic products in the world. Valued at nearly 89 Billion dollars per year, toys are also lucrative. The trouble is that toys are risky and subject to little more than the whim of the consumer. Literally one weeks consumers will be buying the latest fidget spinner, and then the next week stocking up on branded Avengers Endgame action figures.
The toy industry is dominated by the Likes of Lego, Hasbro, and Mattel. Organizations that can afford the cost of design, tooling, and marketing of literally hundreds of SKU's of toys from 1 month to the next. With 10's of thousands of dollars for each variations, the cost to create a toy is very high. And when the toy is made there is really no guaratee of its success. They are subject to the 50-70% failure rate of any business.
So how does a small company, startup, or lone inventor break into the toy industry, when the the cost of entry and risk is so high?
The problem is in the tooling. That high upfront cost to get started. And the high cost to change if a product is not successful. Molding and traditional tooling are what makes the cost-risk relationship so bad. But there is a process that does not have that high initial tooling fee but will allow you to grow should your toy take off. Additive Manufacturing or Production 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing is when a part is literally grown from a feed of plastic. Traditional manufacturing carves of stamps a shape. 3D printing just makes it appear. Additive is also a digital process. Meaning that, to use it, all you need is a 3D model of your product and it can be created.
Another benefit of the Digital nature of 3D printing is that if a product needs to be changed, updated, or completely replaced, all it takes is an e-mail with the updated 3D design. With no new tooling or molding costs a physical part can be tweaked while it is being made.
Production 3D printing has also reached a scale where if you gain success and are selling thousands, 10's of thousands or more, it can keep up and maintain pricing comparable to injection molding. If a part costs $0.25 for 10,000 units with injection molding after the mold costs, it is likely that production additive can have a similar cost profile without the molding costs.
Additive manufacturing also eliminates the need to create 10,000 pieces. This might be more expensive per part that making large quantities, but it allows a business to experiment and test a market, and not be stuck with the high cost of having to ship and store thousands of pieces. Companies like Slant 3D also often have fulfillment systems, so you create a product and upload it to our system and then when a customer makes an order, the part is printed and shipped right from one of our facilities. (You can learn more about 3D printed product fulfillment here.)
Toys are a risky business. But they can be very lucrative when they are successful. But startups and inventors need a resource that allows them to experiment with production quantities and scale easily without high up-front costs. Traditional manufacturing does not meet those needs. Production Additive manufacturing does allow for this. It lets toy designers make 10 toys and test them, make 1000 toys and sell them, and then make 100,000 and get rich. Just imagine what you could create if the cost to make a toy was not so high
Slant 3D is one of the leaders in high-quantity additive manufacturing. We work continuously with small business and corporate clients to bring new products to market affordably using our production 3D printing farm. Learn more about our capabilities here.
Have an idea for a Toy. Contact us and our team will help you with the design and manufacture, without using the cost of molds.
Already have a toy Design? Submit it for a quote for production 3D printing and out engineers will work with you to get it into production.
Republished. Original Article can be Found Here
The future of 3D printing is bright and is an increasingly important pillar in the manufacturing renaissance. With the increased usage of the technology, conversations about additive manufacturing are a lot more tangible than they were just two years ago. Before, we were debating whether there is a financial or technological case to convert from traditional, high volume processes to an additive printer. Now, there are growing numbers of use-cases and demonstrable business benefits proving that additive can be used as a mainstream manufacturing technology. What can be done with 3D printing isn’t theoretical anymore; it’s fact.
Several industries—including healthcare, automotive and aerospace and defense—have been experiencing impactful production and business transformations within key areas of their business given the maturation of additive technologies and material supply-chains. For instance, interior aircraft parts like ducting, vents and airflow systems created with additive manufacturing permit designers to trim weight, reduce the number of components in assemblies, and conform to tight cabin interiors. In addition, additive provides design freedom to experiment with more effective and efficient part shapes, with fewer potential points of failure. These give manufacturers more flexibility in creating their products all while keeping pace with contracting production cycles.
In a recent survey conducted by Jabil, we discovered that in just over a year, the number of companies utilizing 3D printing as well as the variety of applications rocketed dramatically; the percentage of companies using additive to manufacture production parts rose from 27 percent to 52, bridge production increased from 23 percent to 39, and repair went from 14 percent to 38. Although the 3D printing industry is currently worth around $9.3 billion, a report by Smithers Pira predicts that the additive manufacturing industry will be worth $55.8 billion by 2027. Download the full Jabil survey report.
Scalability from Prototyping to Production
3D printing use for bridge production has grown 70 percent in just two years. In that time, automotive, transportation and heavy equipment industries have been the most frequent users of the technology for this purpose.
Additive manufacturing allows for easy scalability from prototype to full-scale manufacturing. After all, prototyping without the vision and expertise to go into full-scale production misses a key tenant of what additive stands to deliver which is more efficient life-cycle management.
When volumes are still relatively low, if a brand is looking to print 100 parts for engineering testing, for instance, it’s easy to do so with additive manufacturing. Even quadrupling that number can be done with no added retooling costs using 3D printing. Additive is the perfect fit for low to mid-volume production. With the right level of planning, engineering, and material development, a part developed using additive can seamlessly transition into rate production equipment such as injection molding.
Producing a part on-demand with 3D printing enables manufacturers to print parts as needed instead of pulling the part from a supply warehouse. On demand production will help companies realize huge reductions in inventory and storage costs. In the automotive industry, for example, spare parts inventory could be reduced by 90 percent with 3D printing, according to a report from MIT.
Today, we’re moving from a capability conversation to capacity conversation. But in the future, 3D printing will be able to support all facets of new product introduction (NPI) where scaling volume to achieve price points will become decreasingly important.
Normalizing Digitization and Reorganizing the Supply Chain
Additive manufacturing is leading the way in the digital transformation of Industry 4.0. It’s one of the purest digital technologies because it doesn’t require tooling and fixturing, thereby eliminating or reducing switching costs in moving a file to different locations and printers. That’s a radical departure from labor-intensive methods employed by the manufacturing industry over the last 200 years.
In fact, the most disruptive aspect of additive has little to do with the actual printers—it’s the conversion of a digital form into a physical good, meaning a file that has a representation of the final product you want. 3D printing is the first step on the journey to digital transformation.
Rather than stocking a warehouse full of parts that might become obsolete and mass quantities of spare parts that may or may not be in demand, additive manufacturing condenses the piles of boxes eating up physical space into digital files that can be stored in the Cloud and easily accessed if they are ever needed.
In addition to digital inventory, distributed manufacturing is also changing how companies are incorporating 3D printing into their digital strategy. Instead of considering a centralized solution, distributed manufacturing enables companies to decentralize production so they can manufacture the final product closer to the customer.
With 3D printing, manufacturers can better connect the physical supply chain with a digital thread and manage products more efficiently from concept to end-of-life. Manufacturing can be distributed to any location that has digital manufacturing systems in place simply by sending a file. This decentralization enables a more collaborative, transparent and efficient supply chain. If a natural disaster hits, additive manufacturing will be able to right itself and move forward much more quickly than traditional manufacturing.
In the future, a hybrid version of manufacturing will include large factories, as well as larger numbers of smaller sites with 3D print farms, or even printers being deployed in alternative locations, like service and support centers, distribution centers, or even in people’s homes. 3D printing will eventually become simple enough that most households will be able to pull files and print a product with just a few flicks of their wrists, like 2D printing at Kinko’s a mere ten years ago. We’re already on this course, and we’re just beginning to distribute closer to consumption and becoming more agile.
Not too long ago, the battery case on one of my son’s toys broke and I 3D printed a new one. It’s starting to reach the point where you wonder, “What can’t we print?” And when we start to dissect everything down to the molecular level, it’s just a matter of time before individual consumers can print food or glasses frames or…well, anything. In the future, 3D printing will empower more consumers.
Slant 3D offers high volume production of 3D printed parts as an alternative to injection molding. Simply submit a 3D model of your file and our engineers will work with you to get it quoted for production.
Offering Greater Flexibility and More Customized Designs
A prevailing consumer trend that we have noticed across many industries is the desire for personalization. Rather than purchasing a mass-produced item, customers are more frequently wanting a product that is created for them specifically, gratifying their personal tastes and preferences.
This is enabled by additive manufacturing’s ability to offer low-volume production. 3D printing gives manufacturers more flexibility in responsive design. Instead of having to hoist large quantities of identical objects onto the public, they can afford to produce smaller batches, allowing designers and engineers to adjust product designs and innovate in a cost-effective manner as inspiration strikes or customer feedback trickles in.
The Future of 3D Printing is in Materials
While substantial investments in the additive manufacturing ecosystem are fueling growth, I don’t think you can overstate the significance of the materials. Outside of the high cost of the equipment, the next big barrier is materials and the closed ecosystem which has stymied the industry’s growth. Numerous types of 3D printing materials are on the market today, but very few are advanced enough to meet the quality or regulatory requirements of every industry.
With current challenges surrounding volumes in most industries, suppliers and manufacturers aren’t incentivized to create the materials necessary for new applications. However, I believe that the future of 3D printing is in materials—specifically engineered and application specific materials. The different needs of diverse industries all require custom solutions to their problems. Integrating new engineered materials will transform a new generation of applications, including heavily regulated industries.
Creating a More Sustainable Future with 3D Printing
Finally, two of the key tenets to additive manufacturing are sustainability and conservation. One of the intrinsic benefits is that scrap material is reduced, if not eliminated. As Simon Ford and Mélanie Despeisse point out in their essay, “Additive Manufacturing and Sustainability: An Exploratory Study of the Advantages and Challenges,” additive manufacturing mimics biological processes by creating objects layer by layer, rather than produce a hulking item that must be whittled and chunks carved out to achieve the desired shape. “It is inherently less wasteful than traditional subtractive methods of production and holds the potential to decouple social and economic value creation from the environmental impact of business activities,” they write.
Aside from reducing waste, 3D printing also conserves energy. The Metal Powder Industries Federation did a studythat listed 17 steps required to produce a truck gear using subtractive manufacturing versus the six steps it takes to accomplish the same task with additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, the same product took less than half the energy. Additionally, by bringing products closer to the customer, 3D printing reduces the need for transporting products and materials, thereby positively affecting the quantity of carbon poured into the atmosphere. Therefore, the future of 3D printing will lead to a more sustainable future overall.
This is a pivotal time for the manufacturing industry. We’re standing at an epicenter where we don’t have a fully mature technology, both in the physical representation and the printers and how we want to manage everything on the digital side. But additive manufacturing is demonstrating its transformative nature and has already begun to reshape businesses.
According to our survey, over the next two to five years, 86 percent of companies expect their use of 3D printing to at least double, and just less than 40 percent expect their usage to increase five times or more. As we adopt additive manufacturing, companies will be able to do smaller batch sizes, realize faster NPI and development and, ultimately, where the cost curves intersect, use it as a full serial production tool. In doing that, we’re laying the foundation, and the distributive manufacturing model will be here to stay. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the future of 3D printing is bright.
When creating a mold for a new product, it generally requires 6-8 weeks to complete. This is 6-8 weeks that a company is waiting to move forward. Then once the mold is complete it can take several weeks of verification to ensure that the parts that mold is making are viable.
Contrast this is Production 3D printing. It requires less than 1 week to prepare a part for production and have a sample for verification. Then parts can be produced at a rate of thousands per week. (And though the rate of production for additive manufacturing is a bit slower, its Just-in-time capabilities saves warehousing and lost inventory costs).
How can production additive manufacturing be considered "slower" when weeks are saved during design and setup.
Let's actually see where the break-even for Time is with Injection molding and production 3D printing.
There is also the component of Design Time. With 6 weeks for a mold to be created it is 6 weeks before a design can be verified for production. If there is an error in the design then the process has to start over from scratch.
With additive manufacturing a simple design change can be implemented within days. And during production, it can be implemented within hours. This is simply not possible for injection molding.
Additive manufacturing is often considered a slow process when compared to other production processes. On a time of part per machine basis that might be true. But when so much time is saved during design and setup, additive manufacturing starts to look faster than injection molding. Would you rather have part in the warehouse within 2 weeks or within 10 weeks?
Additive Manufacturing is a More Flexible Alternative to Injection Molding. Saving Time in Design and Manufacturing
Whenever a mold is a created a design is literally set into stone. This means that the product cannot be changed without starting from scratch and paying for the cost of a new mold. For new products and new companies that cost of the mold is a single up front cost worth thousands of dollars, that might be unusable.
Molds are also difficult to design for. Shrinkage, draft angles, and general geometries are all factors that severely constrain design of injection molded parts. And the application of textures is either expensive if integrated into the mold or must be done in post processing.
If a product is not well proven, with preorders or customers guaranteed to buy it, injection molding is not a good option, because it is a high up front cost, to create a product that might not address the market and needs to be redesigned.
The wheels for the toy above, were produced by Slant 3D. The client begain with a simple solid wheel. But about 30% of the way through production they changed the design to the "spring-hub." All they had to do was send the new file and within an hour the parts being produced were updated to the new design. No time or money lost in retooling.
Production 3D Printing solves the inflexibility in injection molding.
Additive manufacturing, or production 3D printing, fixes the inflexibility of molding. High volume production of 3D printed parts allows for the production of as large of quantities as injection molding. But, since there is no tooling required to make 3D printed parts, products can be updated and changed at anytime during production. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a new mold a client just e-mails a new file. Then every part off the line from then on is that upgraded part.
Production 3D printing also has the benefit or allowing production of more varied and complex geometries. That is not to say that there are not "best practices" when designing for additive, there are. But there is still far more freedom in the design of part than injection molding. Textures can be applied for free. Internal cavities and channels are possible. And parts can be implanted inside of the part during the process (especially with FDM). Curved and Organic shapes like the 3D printed pencil holders shown below are also feasible with additive and impossible for molding..
The Time Saved with Additive Manufacturing
Within this discussion of the flexibility of high volume production 3D printing vs. molding there is also the question of time. The time lost in in retooling can put production behind days, weeks, and even months. These all have a cost associated with them. The fact that additive manufacturing is able to almost instanteously update and continue saves all of the effort.
Lastly there is the question of delivery schedule and Just-In-Time capabilities. Molds are intended to be used for very large runs of parts. This means that clients must makes large quantities and then store them, regardless of demand. Production 3D printing does not have this problem. Parts can be produce precisely at the rate of demand, ramping up and down as needs. Additive can make 10,000 parts one week, and 2000 parts then next without extra cost. This also decreases warehousing fees and losses from unsold inventory.
Final Word on Molding vs Additive Manufacturing
Molding is a great technology for products intended to sell millions of units, without update, for relatively large periods of time. But in a world where product optimization and addressing customer feedback can mean the difference between success and failure, especially for more niche or specialty products, additive manufacturing is clearly a better option.
Slant 3D produces 10,000's of parts every week for clients ranging from startups growing their first products to corporate clients, like amazon, implementing new lines. We are here to help you make you product successful with large-scale additive manufacturing to let you go from 100 parts 100,000 parts. Just send us a 3D model of your part to get started and one of our sales engineers will get in contact with you with a quote.
Recently the public got a rare view of the Slant 3D 3D printing factory. Dee Sarton's "Keepin' it Local" Segment came to one of our 3D printing facilities and was able to discuss how production additive manufacturing was growing in Idaho and is helping businesses ranging from startups to Amazon.
One of the largest advantages of the FDM printing processes used by Slant 3D, when contrasted with methods such as SLA/SLS, MJF, or injection molding, are our abilities to embed 3rd party hardware into the parts to create a strong and permanent assembly. This capability give the assembly longer life and reduces production costs because there is no secondary assembly and fasteners that can fail.
Embedding bearings, electronics, LED's, motors, fasteners, and in the past beads in a baby rattle, are a common option for production 3D printed parts. But it does often require rethinking of the design of the part in order to accommodate the addition of parts during the process. After all we are literally growing a part around another part.
The way the 3rd party parts are added is by pausing the process at key locations. Slant 3D technicians will then place the hardware into the parts and the process will continue to finish encasing the 3rd party hardware.
This can only be done with FDM 3D Printing. Other processes such as SLS or MFJ cannot allow for the addition of new hardware, not only because they can't really pause without potentially disturbing the print, but during the process the entire build volume is filled with the printing material so there is no way to insert hardware without disturbing the print and making it unusable. FDM does not have this problem
Selecting a location for the piece to be added
FDM production printing builds the part 1 layer at a time by using a nozzle extruding hot plastic. This requires that any part be capable of being added almost immediately prior to when it would be encased in plastic
While this process of addition is generally determined and engineered by Slant 3D, it is useful to understand in the context as it can help with the design of the cavity that the part will be placed in. Things to consider include clearance of the nozzle and how the part will lay as it is being buried.
Below are some common profiles and when, relative to the layering, the part would be added.
There is a great deal of variability in the capabilities of engineering production 3D printed parts to have embedded hardware. So it is ideal if you include Slant 3D in your design process as early as possible. Our engineers can guide you through the design and make suggestions to the optimize the design for the process.
Feel fee to contact us or submit the current iteration of your design and we will provide a quote and design feedback within 1 business day.
High volume 3D printing factories are able to store products digitally and produce them only when they are ordered. This digital manufacturing backend allows business to target long-tail markets without cost for additional SKU's
UnCommon Lamps is a client of Slant 3D that makes use of our digital inventory and fulfillment capabilities. They design and custom Lamps and shades to pursue ultra-niche tastes and provide influencers with branded merchandise that is something other than T-Shirts and Mugs.
How it works is Uncommon will receive and license artwork. They then use their processes and designers to integrate that artwork onto 3D models of lampshades. Once the design is complete they send the files to Slant 3D for integration into the 3D printing farm. Once an order comes in it is forwarded to the farm and the lamp is produced and shipped within 1-2 days. Uncommon is essentially the equivalent of an app developer. But instead of making apps they are making 3D model files. They have no expenses on production until an order it placed. At that point they essentially a receive a royalty for each sale.
This capability to manufacture a part perfectly on demand creates a huge opportunity for brands, creators, and engineering companies. It allows them perfectly match and scale with demand with no significant capital outlay.
Don't Make Everything Custom
While on-demand production 3D printing is a great resource for hardware designers, there are some technical pointers that any designer should take into account when creating a group of products.
There is a setup process and optimization that should occur when integrating a new 3D printed product. The best way to minimize this is only change a single feature of the product between SKU's. Or even better, create a basic foundation that designs can be imprinted on.
In the case of Uncommon Lamps. They use the same size lampshade and base for every shade. They only change the imprinted design. This ensures that every new design can be produced without changing the production parameters. So each new lamp does not have to be prototyped and there is now change in per-unit cost between individual designs.
Interested in having your products manufactured with production 3D printing? Submit your design for quoting to Slant 3D. One of our sales engineers will get you a quote within 1 business day.
Additive manufacturing, the ultimate child of the ‘80s, has finally proven itself ready for grown up, high-volume work. We delve into how that happened and where it will take the greater manufacturing industry.
Since I started covering the 3D printing industry in 2015, even the most eccentric new developments commanded my full attention. OK, especially the eccentric ones. Battle armor for a cat? Definitely writing about that. Oh, cosmonauts bioprinted a mouse's thyroid, you say? Hold all my calls. And don't even get me started on Siemens' 3D-printing robot spiders.
In the past, I didn’t particularly care if it advanced beyond novelty uses and sensational-but-impractical advances. It was a young technology, a toddler compared to manufacturing's mature, reliable workhorses: milling, casting, injecting molding. And kids will be kids, right?
Full of wonder and mystery, it represented pure potential. Sometimes it was used to make pancakes that looked like astronauts; later, parts for the International Space Station.
"If you can dream it, you can make it." That's how we've been trained to think about the future of 3D printing. At some point these emerging technologies, they have to grow up. They have to, you know, emerge. And after seeing maybe one too many adorable uses, (although still really love the Parisian style homes for hermit crabs), yeah, it's time for 3D printing to live up to its true capabilities.
It's time to shout: Move out of the lab, 3D printing. Find a real job. Change the dang world, why doncha'?
When exactly would this thirtysomething grow up?
For the past six months I've been immersed in answering that question, asking those closest to the technology when that might be. Because this is a story about a technology known for speeding things up, I'll bypass the unknown and first tell you it's this year. (It was in the headline after all.) Full maturity, fully emerged and for the right applications, wholly indispensable. That's the state of the 3D printing in 2019.
Permanent Fixture on the Factory Floor
Visit a 3D print lab, or a booth at a trades show, and you'll see a lot of 3D-printed superheroes and wacky brightly colored creatures. The idea is to show off a machine's knack for nailing details and material and garner passerby's attention. A "look-what-I-can-do" sort of thing. At some point, children, and anthropomorphized technology, must move out of the basement and get a real job. And the factory has proved to be additive manufacturing’s best setting, specifically for making tools, fixtures and jigs.
Not sexy, but it's a living.
"We started seeing the possibilities and what the advantages would be in the late '80s," explains Chuck Hull, one of the Fathers of 3D Printing, referring to how manufacturers could use 3D printing on the production floor.
He invented stereolithography (SLA) in the early 1980s after his boss told him not to spend company time on the hypothetical process of building a part layer by layer (by curing a special resin with light attached to an X-Y plotter).
Hull didn’t spend much time thinking about possibilities back then. He just wanted to cut down on the six-week wait time for designers from drawing a part to having a prototype in hand. By the end of the decade, the company he co-founded, and of which he is currently CTO, 3D Systems, was making investment casting patterns for foundries.
"We could make these patterns at least in enough volume for foundries to do short run production," Hull recalls. He says it was mainly for fixtures and tooling and went into factories.
Thirty years later, this appears to be the most approachable application, as every manufacturer understands the need for the right tooling, jigs and fixtures. And the ROI is nearly as easy to comprehend.
With the Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 3 3D printers, which use fused filament fabrication (FFF), Volkswagen estimated it saved $377,000 by printing fixtures and tools at its Portugal plant in 2017.
"It used to be if they wanted one of these parts, it would cost $200 to get the part, and it would take a couple of weeks," says John Kawola, Ultimaker's North American president. "Now they can print it in a couple hours and cost $20."
Kawola calls the move going from "the carpet to the concrete."
Jabil, which has 42 million square feet of manufacturing space across 120 sites, relies heavily on the additive process to speed up its workholding innovation. It also has an impressive innovation lab in San Jose, Calif., replete with all those aforementioned colorful prints, along with actual manufacturing tools such as for sneaker insoles.
"I can’t think of an application where we don't use 3D printing," says John Dulchinos, Jabil's VP of Digital Manufacturing. "All of our factories have some 3D printing capability in them for fixtures, jigs and tooling."
At its Auburn Hills plant in Michigan, Jabil says it has saved 35% on tooling costs and 80% on delivery time by 3D printing tools and fixtures.
The speed to solve problems on the plant floor invariably leads to higher efficiency, too.
One notable example Dulchinos cites is regarding workholding that testers would place a certain electronic medical device in. Kaizen practices identified a quality issue where the tester's finger could cover a circuit and short it out.
"That day the engineer downloaded it into CAD, put in the ribs, and by the end of the day, we had an updated fixture in place that solved that problem," Dulchinos says.
Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies perhaps has the most obscene savings. As of FY 2018, they have printed more than 60,000 tooling fixtures for product testing and calculated $125 million in cost avoidance. Its customer is the Department of Energy’s Kansas City National Security Campus, which makes non-nuclear components for national defense systems.
"Jigs and fixtures are low-hanging fruit," says David McMindes, Honeywell FM&T CTO. "It's a very nice market for making a lot of small high precision pieces. [We] don't make thousand anything—in hundreds or less— so additive fits here."
Cranking Up the Volume
If maturity means just getting and being good at a job, I personally would have been very mature at 16…and I most certainly was not. It's not enough for 3D printing, which, again, has the limitless potential to make anything out of any material, to settle as an assistant for older manufacturing techniques like machining.
Moving up and accruing more responsibility takes time, trust and experience.
That's exactly what has happened as HP, Carbon, EOS and Desktop Metal have set out to disrupt the economic expectations of large-scale additive applications. Desktop, which claims with its Production System to have the fastest metal printer in the world (up to 12,0000 cm³/hr) recently received $160 million (led by Koch Industries) to reach $483 million total in venture capital. The build size is also huge: 750 x 330 x 250 mm. It's expected out this year and by the crowds huddled around it at IMTS 2018, the industry can't wait.
"All of these things have moved the bar in terms of what the breakeven point is between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing," Dulchinos says. "Now we have applications in the tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands."
While countless companies are pushing towards high volume, the progenitor of it all, 3D Systems, has spurred the highest volume application with its SLA process. They created an automated solution for Align Technologies, makers of Invisalign clear aligners, to produce more than 350,000 unique (several for each patient) aligners— per day! The 3D printing process is used to create a mold for each thermoform aligner.
"The scale is the biggest volume application 3D printing has been involved in," Dulchinos notes. "It's very impressive."
Align surely agree, as its customer base has expanded 600% in less than a decade, and they expect to grow in China by up to 20% a year.
"They figured out there is a phenomenal need: no one likes braces and wire," explains 3D Systems CEO Vyomesh Joshi, an excitable figure who I chatted with at IMTS. While Hull is down-to-earth, even casual, about his creation, Joshi, who once ran HP's entire 2D printing business, is exploding with palpable energy, charged by what's building in the industry.
But it would be folly to confuse Joshi's unbridled excitement with typical emerging tech hype. He is amped up over some fairly boring, but incredibly vital, reasons. He speaks of improving quality and reliability, and most of all workflows for each specific application.
The actual manufacturing of the aligners, at such a high volume and amount of customization, could obviously fall apart faster than a hockey player's teeth without the right workflow. Incorrectly matching patients to of aligners would be reason enough for many not to smile. But the workflow starts in the orthodontist's chair, and how they train these dentists to use the 3D scanners.
"You have to get the fundamentals right," Joshi says. "And figure out how you very predictably manage that in a high productivity environment."
He says 2019 will be about manufacturers finding the right workflows.
"You have the platforms now," he says. "Materials innovation, training and awareness are going to be the facing item."
Getting a Doctorate
Going into the medical profession is a sure sign of "making it." They have the most rigid standards and only the most mature would ever want to deal with: FDA oversight, threats of malpractice, and constantly helping people even if they don’t like them. No thanks.
But this is where additive will perhaps excel the most in the long term. It's made itself known in the public eye, with amazing stories such as Hailey's Dawson's, a girl who, while wearing 3D-printed hand prosthesis, threw out the first pitch at every Major League ballpark, including a World Series game.
I'm all for bottling up feelings, but this kid's story always makes me want to ugly cry. Her struggle wasn't life-threatening, but the awareness she catalyzed will help generations of kids who couldn’t afford traditional prosthetics lead more active lives.
And helping people seems a much more practical use of 3D printing than hermit crab mansions. Medical manufacturers are taking notice.
Ten percent of medical devices will be 3d printed, Joshi estimates.
"We’ve reached critical mass," he says. "I think you're going to find a lot more Aligns in the next ten years. Align has a $23 billion market cap."
It's driven by the need for customization, as everyone's body is somewhat different.
"Nobody would make aligners without the 3D printing process," Dulchinos says. "Once 3D printing has proven itself, an industry almost 100% switches over to 3D printing in a very short amount time."
The hearing aid industry has seen a nearly 100% transformation to 3D printing.
And it won’t be long before actual organs are 3D printed on a regular basis, from lungs to kidneys. Try that on a CNC machine.
Hull, as a good father is wont to do, refuses to let 3D printing get a big head even in this amazing advanced use case
"I'm also familiar with how much work it is to go from this concept to making them happen," Hull says. "So there's lots of research, lots of effort to be done still before a lot of these miraculous things happen."
Owning (Virtual) Real Estate
3D printing miracles don’t happen overnight. That much is true, but they can happen in two.
When a critical part on aircraft in Europe went down, Fast Radius, a company at the forefront of additive on-demand services, came to the rescue.
"Normally this part took 48 days to fabricate," Fast Radius CEO Lou Rassey says. "We made it and delivered it in 48 hours. "
Fast Radius formed just off the UPS airstrip in Louisville in 2015. Sample parts and prototypes would roll off the production line and almost directly onto an airplane for delivery. The recent opening of its Chicago facility last August signals its intention to disrupt the supply chain even more.
Using HP's Multi Jet Fusion printer and Carbon's M1, both top-tier in speed and quality, the parts created can meet manufacturing's need and Fast Radius' cloud-based solution has become a virtual warehouse for industrial manufacturers seeking leaner operations.
"The rule of thumb is that the cost of storing a part is 25% of its cost.," Rassey says. "Think of product companies that need to store parts for a decade or more. The cost of storage far exceeds cost of making part."
Rassey says once industrial equipment manufacturer has 3,000 parts in its database for spare tractor parts.
"They can make one of these and not need to make 20," Rassey says. "It's exactly what they need when it's needed."
Fast Radius has built an operating system to ensure every piece of the PLC pie is accounted for virtually, including the design, build instructions, support, material formulation, materials, monitoring, environment, post-processing, metrology and quality control.
This will ensure "the part we made today is same five years ten years from now," Rassey explains.
Taking over real estate, even if it's virtual. That's adulting of the highest order.
But still, the reason machining and injection molding have never sweated additive manufacturing before is because of how difficult it is to print any part, not just a liver or spleen.
"There is a misperception in the industry that I can buy a 3D printing machine, plug it into the wall and get a good part out just like I could with a 2D paper printer," Rassey says. "For the industrial parts we're talking about, they're much more sophisticated. There is a workflow before the machine and after the machine with hundreds of variables that need to be dialed in and controlled to make sure you're getting an industrial-grade part reliably and repeatably."
Fast Radius has built an operating system to ensure every piece of the PLC pie is accounted for virtually, including the design, build instructions, support, material formulation, materials, monitoring, environment, post-processing, metrology and quality control.
This will ensure "the part we made today is same five years ten years from now," Rassey explains.
Using Carbon’s brand new L1 printer, sports equipment manufacturer Riddell made form-fitting helmet inserts, comprising more than 140,000 individual struts, which several NFL teams tested them during the 2018 season. “Our platform enables companies like Riddell to make products that were never thought possible,” says Carbon CEO and Co-Founder Joseph DeSimone.
For the applications previously mentioned, additive manufacturing is really a no-brainer. For it to truly be considered the driver of the digital transformation, (a tall task for a thirtysomething), the technology must move beyond niche use cases and huge companies.
To do that, it need an experienced mentor, a wealthy patron if you will. It has that in General Electric, and its three-year-old business, GE Additive, which offers machines that harness electron beam melting and laser additive technology.
GE famously began mass printing the metal fuel nozzle for GE Aviation's LEAP engine in 2015. It really put metal 3D printing on the map, allowing what was 20 parts to become one, removing unnecessary tooling for those parts and eliminating the welding and brazing process.
Aviation is as stringent, maybe more than medical, and GE has mastered how and where to use additive. Now it wants to give moms and pops, or small and medium enterprises, the same chance to innovate metal printing in their respective fields.
"I think many customers still view this as a research tool, or as a tool for R&D and universities—it's not," says Christine Furstoss, CTO of GE Additive.
Still, it has taken a high degree of skill and manufacturing prowess to get consistent, reliable parts, non-negotiable aspects of manufacturing.
"We're working with electron beams and lasers, these are high heat sources," explains Furstoss, a metallurgist by trade. "Things sometimes distort, they change, they move. Fine tuning that has become a very iterative process."
In May, the company is rolling out the preparation workflow suite to make these metal 3D printing less esoteric and more approachable, and thus adoptable.
"Large understand how to slice up design [to get it ready to print]," Furstoss explains. "Small and medium, might run with a staff of ten engineers and we want to make it easier for them."
Not knowing the ins and outs of metal has made it so the average development time is six months, taking dozens of iterations, Furstoss says. This can all be done digitally now, with GeonX Virfac 3D printing simulation software, which will predict defects, distortion and stresses.
Using this tool, Furstoss believes that can be brought "down to single digits of trials and down to a month to two weeks—a factor of three to four reduction."
Furstoss distills it even further.
"It's all about productivity," she says. "The whole industry evolved. Additive has not traditionally been a fast process, but now with these new advances, productivity increases are one and half to two times what they were before."
And in the end, this isn’t about one technology maturing and growing up. It's just another example of continuous improvement methods that some companies have recognized to reap great success and higher productivity. It's not the only answer, but it's time to have adult conversations about it, and not get wrapped in the silly novelties and one-offs.
"You've got to think about the sweet spot of the technology," Joshi concludes. "Molding is ideal if you want to do 100 million parts and it’s a known process. If it's a complex part, where yields low, and has thin walls, then you think about additive manufacturing."
Get a Quote for Production of Your Part with 3D Printing.
With the new year are coming many new changes for Slant 3D and our production additive manufacturing capabilities.. The largest of which is our expansion into a brand new facility that is bigger and better than before.
We have more than doubled our footprint with an eye on more than doubling our already impressive capacity. Slant 3D currently is one of the highest volume producers of 3D printed parts in the world. Making in excess of 10,000 3D printed parts per week. We have created a truly viable alternative to injection molding.
Production 3D printing not only saves the cost of tooling in the manufacturing of new products, but it offers more design fluidity than any other process. Our clients are able to iterate during the production process and create products that are more internally complex and strong than any other process can create.
Since our inception Slant 3D has been working to improve the standards of 3D printing of large volumes of parts. We are going to continue to do this with new supplier partnerships and internal projects for the development of materials and processes to ensure top quality results every time.
We also continue to expand the materials that we support. While clients can request any material they need for their project we currently natively support materials ranging from bio-degradable PLA to carbon-infused nylon and UL-94 rated ABS.
We are also expanding our team. Slant 3D will be expanding our production staff and engineering resources to ensure that clients have every resource available when going through the production process.
More updates will be coming in the future. But for now let's just say that we are very excited about 2019.