1 of 8
IPF Objet MultiMaterial
2 of 8
3 of 8
Daniel Hilldrup design
The 3D-printed gift given to the Israeli President made using Stratasys' multi-material 3D printing technology, printed by IPF and designed by Daniel Hilldrup.
4 of 8
Bicycle helmet 3D printed with VeroMagenta and VeroCyan in one print on the Objet500 Connex3 colour multi-material 3D printer
5 of 8
Shoes 3D printed on the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer, in one print run, using Vero Yellow, VeroMagenta and rubber-like TangoBlack Plus
6 of 8
Glasses 3D printed on the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer using Opaque VeroYellow (the frame), rubber-like black (TangoBlackPlus – also on the frame), and a unique translucent yellow tint (the lenses) in one print job – no assembly required.
7 of 8
Colour 3D printed helmet
Bike helmet 3D printed on the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer in one print job using VeroCyan, VeroMagenta, and VeroYellow
8 of 8
Stratasys' Objet500 Connex3 3D printer was announced to the world in late January marking the industry's biggest machine launch of 2014 so far.
At the unveiling, Stratasys CEO David Reis said the capability to 3D print in multiple colours and multiple materials would transform the way people design, engineer and manufacture products. And when TCT Magazine spoke to Senior Vice-President and General Manager for the EMEA region Andy Middleton in February, he extolled the new additive manufacturing technology as the "holy grail", enabling customers to create realistic prototypes and setting the bar for the competition.
But who is investing in these industry-disrupting machines? The answer to this is, of course, is service bureaux and Gary Miller, Head of Rapid Prototyping at Industrial Plastic Fabrication Ltd (IPF), has just taken delivery of the company's very own Connex3.
Giving us an edge
IPF has a special relationship with Stratasys, not only is the bureau a beta tester for the 3D printing industry giant, but the company has been an Objet customer for nine years - and was the first Stratasys VIP customer in the UK and the fourth in Europe. IPF was the first UK company to offer a service using the Objet Quadra Tempo, upgrading to Eden technology and then to Connex machines. IPF ordered its first Connex five years ago, giving the bureau the ability to print flexible and rigid materials simultaneously.
"At the time, we didn't fully appreciate that it would make us unique and give us an edge over everything else," Miller said.
IPF, therefore, understands the potential of Stratasys 3D printing technology and being able to offer a more diverse service to customers. "With the Connex, not only did we get the build area, but we got the technology and over the past five years we've watched this technology grow first-hand. And the materials have evolved as well as the technology."
Miller continued that IPF first learned about the development of multi-colour, multi-material 3D printing at a board meeting of Stratasys technology users.
"Stratasys wowed us with this technology and asked us for our feedback. In our field, colour is not the most important thing - or at least that's how I felt when I was introduced to it. But as I heard other people at the meeting talk - some of them potential clients - they were excited. This completely changed my perception because four out of the six people who spoke before me were really enthusiastic about colour.
"Multi-colour, multi-material 3D printing holds significant potential, but I think at this early stage there are doubts about how to make the most of it, so it's up to people like us who understand and are enthusiastic about the technology to push it into the right areas," Miller said.
"Three machines in one"
IPF's four Connex systems are print-ready to cover a wide range of different materials. This means when a client calls requesting digital ABS the team can react just as quickly as printing in the rigid/flexible combination, saving valuable time and negating the cost/time issues of changing resins, Miller explained.
"Around 60 per cent of our Stratasys technology is printing rigid and flexible Tango, but being able to print digital ABS with flexible material means the parts are more durable than previously. The new Objet500 Connex3 is potentially two or three machines in one. One is colour, one is ABS and the other is flexible, so it's three different material combinations in a single machine," Miller said, adding, "it means we've got to shuffle up and share the space to get five Objet machines in downstairs, along with our two FDM Fortus400 systems."
The development of the Objet500 Connex3 was kept top secret for years and Andy Middleton admitted keeping quiet - particularly when quizzed by the industry media - was very difficult. IPF was aware of the new machine before the announcement at SolidWorks World in January and Miller admitted he too found it tricky to remain tight lipped.
"It was difficult," he said, "especially with Jim (TCT + Personalize Group Editor James Woodcock) poking around."
He continued that while the Objet500 Connex3 is amazing, it's exciting watching what else is coming out of Stratasys.
"Yes the Connex3 will provide colour and yes it will do material combinations, but it's what else Stratasys has in the locker. When we first got involved with Objet we had one material to print with, material development over time has meant we’ve now a few hundred to choose from!"
Miller believes the Objet500 Connex3 is very much a machine for the service bureau.
"Our machines are very reliable; mainly thanks to the experience we've gained from the years of using the technology and the support we receive from our distributor Tri-Tech. We now have a vast capacity and every night we’re printing a wide range of parts. Even companies that have also invested in Stratasys technology still use us."
IPF's reliability and 3D printing prowess brings the business regular and varied custom, but will customers be treating colour as the norm in the months and years to come? Andy Middleton answered this query with a resounding yes in February, but Miller kept a lid on his enthusiasm.
"I think in some circumstances, definitely yes," he said, "but I think it will be only from those who are prepared to embrace the tech and understand the advantage it offers them. To start everyone used to watch black and white TVs, but when colour was introduced some converted straight away, while others took longer, but I bet you'd struggle to find someone still watching in black and white now."
As a service provider, expectation management is crucial, but Miller remains an advocate of Stratasys additive manufacturing technology and is looking forward to how the first prints on the new machine will be received.
"I think Andy is right [to be enthusiastic] and it is very early to tell yet. I don't know what sort of feedback we'll get about colour. What I do know is our client base like high quality prints that require little finishing and fit together in the way they were intended. Andy might be right on the money and I might install cyan, magenta and yellow in there and never have to change it because I get customers that want all these parts produced in this colour combination and we'll then be so busy we'll have to buy another Connex3 because it's printing colour around the clock."
With nearly a decade of Objet loyalty under its belt, IPF's relationship with Stratasys is this strong for a reason and Miller is confident in this latest development - the adoption of colour may be part of the evolutionary process.