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The Objet500 Connex3 made headlines across the globe when it launched in January and now the technology is infiltrating the marketplace.
The real-world applications of multi-colour, multi-material 3D printing are becoming clear. One user of this ground-breaking hardware is Luke Guttery, Director of Product Design at zero360, a design consultancy with bases in the UK and US.
Guttery and the zero360 team have been using this technology via prolific UK service bureau IPF. TCT caught up with him at Develop3D Live at the Warwick Arts Centre in April.
"Our main work centres on developing wearables for the wrist that can track bio-data and stream social updates," he explained. "We do lots throughout different industries including medical products, consumer electronics and mobile phones, and for all of these we use 3D printing. We go through a design process where we map out everything we need to do, sketch it, build it in clay or foam and then we'll do a mock-up in CAD, then get it rapid prototyped.
"CAD is great, but it doesn't give you that hands-on feel."
Guttery can vouch for the time and cost benefits of rapid prototyping, with turnaround of as little as one day compared to the fortnight it would take to produce a cast for the sort of designs zero360 creates. Moreover, a multi-material 3D print costs the growing business in the region of £300 compared to the estimated £2,000 just to make the cast for the prototype.
"That's just not viable at all. And obviously you have the related lead time."
Multi-colour, multi-material 3D printing is the technology zero360 never realised it needed before January. Guttery explained that now colour is a real option, demonstrating prototypes to potential customers is easier because they better represent the real product.
"When you see it in black and white, that's great for getting a feel for a product, but seeing it in full colour takes understanding a product to another level," he explained. "With our wearables, we use Connex multi-material 3D printing technology because we can print straps and certain ergonomic geometries and get a real feel for them.
"Comfort is a really important factor in sustained engagement, so being able to rapid prototype these is a key part of the development process. Also, the Connex's flexible material is very durable and is as good as casting, which is a massive plus, as it's quicker to produce."
The range of products zero360 is tasked with bringing to life includes pedicle screws for spinal surgery, which the team have printed on Connex 3D printers for prototyping, because they can then accurately prototype the mechanical movement of the screws quickly. Using traditional CNC technology, it would take zero360 at least three weeks to produce a prototype for this precise piece of surgical equipment.
The wearables zero360 makes are flexible wrist straps, while the business also produces mobile phones for the company it co-founded, Solo Mobile Nigeria.
"It's good when you get to the later stage of real-world testing, where a quick mock-up is really important and you can turn that around really quickly and test the working product. With the smartphone, we can print off the phones before they go to market to see how they feel - and now we can print them off in colour," Guttery remarked.
Like any dyed-in-the-wool industrial designer, Guttery is always thinking about developing products and he sees room for improvement where the ground-breaking Objet500 Connex3 is concerned.
"It'd be fantastic if they did Mold-Tech textures. If you could print a leather texture for a surface."
In hindsight, Stratasys' blanket gagging policy in the months prior to launching the new Connex3 could mean the 3D printing giant has any number of in-demand developments up its sleeve. Indeed, Guttery conceded: "I'm sure they’re already looking at that..."