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John Burn Studio
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John Burn 3D printing studio
It’s not often that you get to take a tour around the 3D printing department of a 109-year-old company, but on a recent trip to Birmingham that’s exactly what happened. The company was John Burn and the 3D printing studio was just the latest in a long list of innovations that have seen this company through more recessions than I have had hot dinners…
From the road I have to admit that John Burn’s Stechford HQ looked a little… well, underwhelming. What I hadn’t realised is that pitch of the road and the angle of ascent conspire to hide most of the 20,000 square foot facility. Once inside the place opens up like a tardis with room after room leading to huge warehouse spaces behind.
With each new room a new layer of the company was peeled back to reveal a rich history of manufacturing and engineering. From white metal lettering at the back of the building; through the traditional machining workshop with the swarf and oil one comes to expect; through to the leather filleting and fillet rubbers that the company has produced for over 100 years; into the vast warehouse space where the company’s materials operations are based; into the brand new 3D printing studio with it’s still-futuristic display of technology.
Proof then that a company can embrace new technologies without letting go of the past — in the process building an enviable portfolio of technology and talent to boot. In fact, John Burn’s employees are amazingly loyal company, with plenty of staff having served well over 20 year with the firm. Something of a rarity these days — they must be doing something right!
I met up with Brian Lang, MD, and Harry Curtis, 3D Printing Business Development for a tour of the facilities — with special interest in the 3D printing side of the business.
Before we took at look at the studio, Harry explained how and why the company came to be involved in 3D printing: “John Burn has a long history but is perhaps most readily associated with the extensive materials business — indeed that is still a major part of what John Burn is about. 3D printing for us is the next logical step in that long history.
“When we first became aware of 3D printing at the lower price points available today we knew it would be a game changer. We’ve all been involved in manufacturing for more years than we care to mention and we know a breakthrough when we see one, it’s how we have managed, as a company, to last so long.”
The company’s first foray into the 3D printing marketplace was with Israel-based Solido. The Solido machines were a form a laminate object manufacturing (LOM) that used a roll of polymer stacked and cut to produce models. The resulting parts were very distinctive and for some applications still haven’t been surpassed. However, even before Solido ceased trading (although rumours of it’s resurrection surface as regularly as dolphins, so you never know…) John Burn were looking for another 3D printer to sell. Having seen Solido go south, the team decided to protect themselves from the sometimes fickle nature of the 3D printing industry.
Their solution? To stock multiple lines from multiple suppliers —an obvious route not only to protect oneself from the vagaries of the corporate 3D printing world but also to offer the best possible service to clients. With so many processes and materials under the broad umbrella of 3D printing it’s hardly surprising that an independent could build a substantial portfolio of machines with only very limited competition between systems.
Working to this theory the company opened their revamped 3D printing studio in late 2012, having signed up with EnvisionTEC to resell the Germany-based company’s range of 3D printers. With systems ranging from the £1500 UP! 3D printer to the £30k EnvisionTEC Ultra the 3D printing studio gives novices an at-a-glance overview of 3D printing in a way that makes jumping between systems easy.
Harry explained: “Hopefully customers will be able to walk into the studio without any knowledge of 3D printing and leave understanding the principles of the different technologies, their strengths and weaknesses and how they could employ them in their business. If we believe they would be best served by an UP!, that’s what we will offer them — if they’re after something that could only be achived by the EnvisionTEC systems we would guide them towards that.
“3D printing remains far from a one-hit solution and no one vendor — let alone one system — can hope to fulfil every niche from the designer’s desktop to the production floor. By cherry-picking our partners we hope to be able to offer exactly that.”