21 Nov 2014
"Democratisation of Innovation" Proves Battles Cry at Personalize 2014
Is the notion of an easy-to-use, high-quality 3D printer in every home inching nearer to becoming a reality? Certainly, exhibitors and attendees at this year's Personalise Expo believe that this is now clearly achievable in the mid-term.
This year's Personalize is clear proof – if proof were needed – that the 3D printing and additive manufacturing sector is in the rudest of health. The event attracted around 200 exhibitors and showcased the very latest in this still emerging technological field. It also paid due attention to a number of ancillary sectors, notably scanning, digitising and inspection for design and manufacturing.
With more than 10,000 visitors from more 50 countries attending the show, it was clear that interest remains huge. Achieving stand-out with so many companies clamouring for attention, however, was not easy, but a number of businesses did manage to distinguish themselves.
One such company was Mcor Technologies, a US company keen to showcase its range of printers that produce 3D objects from ordinary paper. Explaining the process, Conor MacCormack, Co-founder and Chief Executive, said: "When sheets of paper are cut and bonded together, the resulting model is tough and durable enough to be tapped, threaded and hinged. These models are safe and eco-friendly and can be disposed of in the recycling bin for cradle-to-grave sustainability.
"As the paper is 70% porous, it acts like a scaffold for the infiltrant, enabling it to take on the properties of that infiltrant material. Flexible 3D printed model properties are achieved with Mcor FLEX by quickly and easily treating 3D printed models produced on Mcor IRIS and Matrix 3D printers, with Mcor's specially formulated water-based PVA coating."
Looking ahead, MacCormack believes 3D printing could be every bit as big as 2D printing. He said: "If we can take this hype and convert it into a technology with a purpose, the possibilities are endless. I relish our industry's challenge to create a 3D printer for everyone, an ecosystem to support it and the true democratisation of innovation."
Further innovation, democratised or otherwise, was on show from Stratasys, an Israeli-owned technology business. The company has expanded its triple-jetting technology range with the addition of a series of new multi-material 3D printers. According to Ron Ellenbogen, Stratasys' Senior Product Marketing Manager, its new Objet500 Connex1 and Objet500 Connex2 3D printers offer designers and manufacturers enhanced versatility in terms of materials and functionality.
Crucially, this triple jet technology is designed to allow the user to build with up to three different materials in a single run. Explaining the significance of this innovation, Ellenbogen said: "Following the launch of the Objet500 Connex3 earlier this year, we saw a demand for additional multi-material 3D printers that can address a variety of applications in prototyping and manufacturing, such as tooling and moulding."
In terms of more local players, Renishaw, the UK's only manufacturer of a metal based additive manufacturing machine, had on show the PlusPac upgrade for its AM250 additive manufacturing machine. It was also promoting a range of vacuum casting systems, as well as the Equator versatile gauge, a system designed for the comparative measurement of a range of manufactured components.
Stephen Crownshaw, Renishaw's Business Development Manager, said: "The PlusPac add-on kit transforms the AM250 to meet the demand for cleaner process environments, improved surface finish and greater precision."
In addition, PlusPac features new Optical Control Software (OCS), a gas knife lens window protection system, and a high capacity filtration system. These updates are said to give the user tighter control over the build process, enabling the creation of more refined components.
Northern Ireland-based Whale 3D was using the Personalize show to launch its proprietary Technical Services brand. Patrick Hurst, Whale 3D's Managing Director, said the company had now added a Technology and Polymer Centre to its facilities. This has been designed to be a state-of-the-art facility, housing product analysis testing, design and software development, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, as well as a polymer injection moulding centre and a climate testing facility.
Higher quality was also heading the agenda for Prodways, a French manufacturer offering both 3D printing systems and materials. This company was in Birmingham to promote range of 3D printers all based on MovingLight, a proprietary technology based on moving DLP and strong UVA LEDs. The system is said to offer two key advantages – higher quality products and increased profitability.
Arnaud Guedou, the company's Head of Sales and Marketing, said Prodways is in the process of opening an Asian office and is looking at options in Hong Kong and Singapore. The aim is to have it up and running by early 2015.
Slightly ahead of them in terms of Asia is Materialise, a Dutch company that has recently expanded its China office. According to Wilfried Vancraen, the company's Chief Executive, 3D printing is actually now also playing an increasingly important role in China's industrial development.
He said: "In truth, 3D printing offers a lot of value to people all around the world. The fact that Chinese companies are embracing 3D printing and creating cost-effective solutions means this value will be brought to even more people on an international basis.
"3D printing and mould making have constantly influenced and complemented each other. China, as the largest mould-making and manufacturing region in the world, will have an important role to play in the democratisation of 3D printing."
This democratisation – something of a motif at this year's show – was also in evidence from MakerBot, a New York-based 3D printer manufacturers. The company is aiming to "unleash the 3D designer in everyone" with the launch of PrintShop, its latest app. Bre Pettis, the company's Chief Executive, said: "Anyone with an iPad and a fifth generation MakerBot Replicator 3D printer can now unleash their inner 3D designer with just a few taps of their finger.
"With the introduction of MakerBot PrintShop, we believe we have finally provided a piece of software that helps bring 3D printing to the masses. We have removed the obstacle of unfamiliarity with 3D design to being able print in 3D. Our system takes that challenge out of the equation and makes 3D printing fun and easy."
Democratisation in another form came courtesy of CEL, a British company that funded the development of its desktop 3D printer, Robox, via Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing website. The company now aims to bring the product imminently to market.
Chris Elsworthy, CEL's Managing Director, said: "Our successful Kickstarter campaign enabled us to complete the development of the first phase of our Robox 3D printers. This means we now have beautiful and compact hardware, a fully polished user experience in the AutoMaker software, and all the safety certification for international markets requires to allow us to start mass production
"We are on the cusp of launching Robox to the world. Soon, all of our patient Kickstarter backers will be the proud owners of the very first units in production. Following this, our goal is to see the Robox in every school, college, office and home in the UK."
Also making its European debut at the show was the Solidscape MAX2 3D printer. The came courtesy of Solidscape, a US manufacturer of high precision 3D printers for direct manufacturing applications. Bill Dah, the company's Vice-president of Marketing and Communications, said: "This fully automated printer provides an easy-to-operate touch screen, allowing for the effective production of high-precision wax patterns. MAX2 pairs incredible accuracy with a smooth surface finish, all in a user-friendly, high performance 3D printer."
All in all, it is the quest for high-performance, paired with a user-friendly approach that is obsessing the industry as it targets its long held dream of a 3D printer in every home.
Personalize took place at the NEC in Birmingham from 30 September to 2 October 2014. The first edition of Personalize Asia will take place from 12-14 March 2015, at the Shanghai Convention & Exhibition Center of International Sourcing.
Simon King, Special Correspondent, Birmingham