Printing large scale on their 3DP1000 machine, supersized 3D printing is what 3DP Unlimited do best. Bold and finished to perfection, the same question tends to get asked: “Did that really come off a 3D printer?” Well the answer is yes … but that’s just the beginning.
To the untrained eye of general Joe public, these polished, colourful prints appear to have been sent to the printer and as if by some technological sorcery, come out of the other end looking good enough to eat – the fruit that is, not the wheel trim.
Quite often, consumers don’t question what they see, the notorious hype has led them to believe that this is the reality of 3D printing. 3DP Unlimited has a slightly different approach, demisting the fog around the 3D printing rumour mill and managing these sometimes great expectations.
“We intentionally have chosen to go ahead and print objects and have half finished and the other half raw,” 3DP Unlimited Vice President, John Good explained. “The reason we’ve done that is to help connect the dots and paint the possibilities.”
3DP Unlimited want to be transparent about the print process. They are on a mission to inform customers new to the technology that 3D printing is a multistep process.
“People see something near to final use case but we also want to show right next to it what the raw print or minimal finishing looks like so they don’t get this hype where an uneducated consumer is expecting Michelangelo to come off of their printer and it looks like something that belongs in my garage.”
There isn’t just one process for customers to get their head around and CIDEAS is a company that is focused providing customers with the best 3D printing finishing solutions for their needs.
“We tend to first try to explain to the potential customer exactly what they would be getting if they were to order a raw part,” Mike Littrell, President of CIDEAS explains. “It’s very important that we educate the customers to give them the proper expectations from each individual process.”
The service bureau offers four different 3D printing processes –FDM, PolyJet, SLA, SLS - and each of those comes with a multitude of post processing options depending on the application, layer thickness and material.
“What we find is it’s very important to educate the customer in advance and get a better understanding of what their project is so that we can explain to them what they will receive if they were to order a raw part.”
Some of these services can go from simply ripping the support structure away and off it goes in the post, to next level colour matching and painting for a genuine artistic finish. Vapour honing, sanding, chemical sealing, priming, and even boiling are all possibilities within CIDEAS post processing service.
Customer expectations are the driving force behind the bureau’s work and understanding the function of their specific part provides the basis for the results they produce. Do they need the Sistine Chapel or will a rough and ready prototype do the job just as well?
John commented: “There are use cases where printed raw is acceptable and then there’s other cases where you need significant post processing. To use a metaphor, I’ve got a saw from the hardware saw and I’m very capable of going ahead and building shelves that I’m proud of in my garage. My wife won’t let them in the house. She wants something that looks finished. So what finishing you use is really a function of what you are trying to accomplish.”
3DP Unlimited is a company that chooses to take products to the extreme to get them looking as finished and functional as possible but it’s much more than just a manual process, it’s an art form.
“When you start looking at some of the objects, it’s more than sanding, more than painting,” John explained. “Quite honestly it’s art where people have skills like airbrushing, skills you would find on a painting.”
Though the understanding is getting there, John believes that expectations from cloud based click and post 3D print services are one factor holding back widespread comprehension. Without better articulation, customers unaware of the multiple steps required to achieve a finished standard might anticipate museum standard prints appearing at their front door.
“I do believe there has been a disservice in the industry where you’ve got a lot of these cloud based services where you send your STL and something’s going to show up at your doorstep,” John explained. “A lot of the time what ends up in somebody’s hands really ends up being a disappointment. I think it’s very important to reflect what true service bureaux can bring to the table as a real localised partner you just don’t get it off the cloud.”
To combat this, Mike and his team created a film that lifts the veil on what is really involved in getting a product to a finished or near functional standard, by 3D printing a 40% scale 1927 indie car, the Miller 91.
CIDEA Miller 91
Mike explained: “You have these situations where someone goes on the cloud it shows up in the mail and maybe they’re not as familiar with 3D printing as they thought, maybe the media hyped it so they expected a production part in the mail for $20. It’s that lack of understanding the true nature of these processes that drove us to develop a video to show the unbiased view of not only how those processes worked but how the post processing of the parts occurred once they came out of the machine and what it took to get them to the level of production parts.”
“It’s the experience these artisans have that allows them to understand the complex geometries and materials they’re working with and having those tools in their toolbox to be able to create a quality production looking part from a 3D print.”
For 3DP Unlimited, the entire 3D printing ecosystem from design to the print bed all the way to finishing, is about printing great things but managing expectations by making sure all of the information is in the hands of the customer.
John adds: “3D printing has been around for almost 30 years so there is a foundation of people with experience but the growth rate has been so meteoric that every day there’s new naïve people coming in. We cant just say been there done that. They need the same education we went through 10 or 15 years ago - old is new to a certain extent.”
Making 3D Printing Better.
"Our focus is on every process that occurs after a part has been 3D printed from any technology," explained Daniel J. Hutchinson Chief Innovation Officer of Postprocess Technologies; PostProTech.
For the Buffalo, New York based company, getting the right finish for a print is just as important as the printing itself. Boasting a range of finishing technology from support removal, surface finishing, drying and infused coatings, the company specialises in providing after-print solutions for an effective additive manufacturing ecosystem.
“We like to call ourselves innovators not inventors because we take manufacturing processes and utilise them, specifically tailored to 3D printing.”
Prior to the development of PostProTech’s technology, 3D printing users were simply unable to get the final result they were looking for without heavy manual intervention. Developing the intellectual property, manufacturing machines and consumables PostProTech provides the 3D printing industry with the same proficiency customers get from 3D printer manufactures.
With an accelerated number of companies battling to get into the space, PostProTech are sticking to their guns and concentrating on what they do best – making 3D printing better.
“We like to say we make 3D printing better. We are a company that has developed from 3D printing. We understand 3D printing we’ve been in the AM industry for several years now and we’ve tried to augment what is needed from different types of 3D printing applications.”
PostProTech’s customer reach is a wide as the 3D printing spectrum itself. Working with clients from the defence sector, 3D printing service providers all the way to universities gives their user base the opportunity to get the best out of their technology.
“We are bridging the gap between 3D printing and the end use application and or end use customers. We’ve made the 3D printing process seamless with our post processing technology, enabling customers to produce a more complete and finished end product without having to figure it out on their own."
As the industry rushes ahead, PostProTech recognises that finishing techniques need to keep up with the pace to ensure the ecosystem continues to grow.
“We know that 3D printing is going to be changing the future in which we define manufacture. Not only do we have to change the design and the way it is manufactured but we also have to think about how we’re going to finish these parts in the design to manufacturing process.”