Just under a year ago, Solidpro—one of Germany’s very fist certified channel partners for 3D printing solutions by HP—opened a demo centre at its headquarters in Langenau. With the addition of a second showroom in Paderborn and a newly established partnership with metal 3D printing system manufacturer, Desktop Metal Inc., the Bechtle Group’s 3D specialist continues to drive its future-oriented business. We sat down with Solidpro expert Valentin Kurtovic to talk about the opportunities and evolution of 3D printing, and the importance of a new way of thinking.
3D printing is a growing market that has come a long way from mere prototyping and sample printing. What solutions and printed objects do you present in Langenau?
To get one thing out of the way: We don’t do commissions, i.e. we never compete with our own customers. Instead, we will gladly point companies who would like to procure 3D prints to our toll-manufacturing clients. The parts we print in our demo centre are for benchmarking only and intended to help our customers make a well-founded decision when it comes to buying the presented solution. The system we demo is an HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200, which is suitable for both prototyping and serial production. Naturally, the benchmark parts we print for our customers are treated confidentially.
How well is the HP 3D printing demo centre received?
We have several companies get in touch with us every week who would like to see the technology in action and understand the process chain. Engineers in particular are very interested and are often surprised by what the HP systems can do and how well they perform for serial-produced 3D prints
The HP 3D printing demo centre at Solidpro’s headquarters in Langenau.
3D still harbours a lot of potential for growth. What’s your outlook?
The media are already referring to 3D printing as a billion-euro market. From our vantage point, we do see a very promising development and expect that we’ll have to keep upping our own forecasts over the coming years. Even discount supermarkets carry 3D printers today. The quality they deliver may be subpar, but they are still a source of fascination for technophile consumers. Students gain their first experiences with these machines long before they first touch on additive manufacturing in their professional education. Industrial facilities are adopting a new generation of powerful 3D printers that no longer require hard-to-find specialist operators. Instead, they come with interactive, animated and multilingual user guidance built in so even a temp is able to use them safely. That’s not to say, though, that specialists have reason to worry. Digital product development still requires technicians, engineers, product designers and other upstream experts to make it all happen.
With 4D printing in the starting blocks, how will this next generation influence 3D technology?
Shape-memory alloys, or ‘memory metals’, such as nickel titanium have become a staple in medical engineering. They allow us to create thermo-reactive objects that can transform into different shapes, hence 4D. So what the next generation will be about primarily is the development of new materials and applications and adapting them to existing print technologies. In this context, our partner, HP Inc., is pursuing a game-changing strategy with their Open Materials Platform. This allows any company to develop materials and have them certified for HP’s 3D printers. In fact, HP even provide dedicated lab equipment to facilitate material certifications and approvals.
What materials are suitable for 3D printing?
There are virtually no limits there as we see a constant development of new materials and 3D printing methods. We’re talking plastics, metals, compounds, and even foodstuffs and other organic or biocompatible materials. We can’t even grasp the full potential yet, so there’s still tremendous room for innovation.
The 100 m2 demo centre houses an HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 print solution.
What types of processing does 3D printing lend itself to?
When we look at the machining industry globally, I’m sure we’ll continue to see considerable growth in the years to come. However, specialised applications will be increasingly valued based on their economic as well as their ecological impact. The more complex the surfaces, cavities or undercuts are, the more interesting 3D printing becomes as an initial step. 3D printing is indeed well established as a production technique in quite a number of industrial applications.
How can 3D printing benefit the supply and value chains?
The benefits lie in lower assembly and pre-production costs, reduced stock-keeping, as well as shorter lead times and faster decision making. For instance, in some sectors, companies need to keep a stock of certain spare parts for decades, or at the very least be able to produce these components on demand. In addition to the cost of warehousing materials, pre-products and tools, there’s also a risk of technical drawings being updated and plastics degrading over time. 3D printing enables completely new approaches and flexible provisioning.
Another key factor is the ability to rethink product creation altogether with the new possibilities of 3D printing in mind. Experienced designers and engineers often decide in a matter of seconds if an idea is viable and has the potential to become a real product. Now there’s a learning curve to recognise and leverage the added value of 3D printing and include it in this kind of intuitive decision making.
Published on Jul 24, 2018.