“We’re at the beginning of something that’s going to shake up the world” – those are the words of Josh Claman, Stratasys’ Chief Business Officer as he addresses a room of eager journalists surrounded by an impressive collection of colourful print samples for the launch of the company’s fourth generation multi colour, multi-material technology.
The new star of the show is the J750, a versatile addition to the Objet Connex family boasting more than 360,000 colour options and a range of material properties, marking a new level of realism for the 3D technologies market.
For the additive manufacturing stalwart, this has been its opportunity to reinvent what 3D printing is, or rather fulfil what people already think it is. Stratasys claims this machine comes closest to what a typical 8-year old kid thinks 3D printing is – a simple piece of tech, where you press a button and a full colour, tangible object comes out.
For the big reveal, Stratasys invited us to the headquarters of Otterbox, a long-time Stratasys customer, in Fort Collins, Colorado. Without a doubt, the coolest office I have ever visited, like a sleeker version of the coveted Google HQ kitted out with a C-3PO looking after the server cupboard, a kitchen equipped with various smoothies and the ever-hipster, office slide (One Otterbox employee told me they’re actually one of two businesses on the street to have one – I’m making the business case for TCT Towers).
But Otterbox isn’t just speeding up their employee’s journey to the break room, they’re also keen on speeding up the product development process for their popular lines of protective tech gear – that’s where the J750 comes in. The company’s founder and CEO, Curt Richardson, spoke about how the consumer electronics accessory company has been using 3D printing since 2005 to improve its product development cycle. Now as one of the first companies to install the J750, the process is being transformed once more with a technology that allows Otterbox to make advanced prototypes that look exactly like their finished retail-standard products.
“For our beta customers, it’s been transformational," Josh tells TCT. "We’re learning more about what you can do with this product from our customers than we ever imagined. All of them had this refinement of the prototyping cycle in mind, they were all thinking about it.”
Whilst the rest of the industry seems focused on speed (think Carbon and NewPro 3D), Stratasys are quite clear that they’re not out to join that race with the J750. This machine, the most advanced in the company’s arsenal, sits somewhere in between prototyping and final part production – whilst the parts produced on the machine are not intended for end-use cases, they are the most accurate prototypes we’ve seen on the market so far. For example, Otterbox doesn’t use printed prototypes in its testing lab as the material properties don’t match that of their finished products – they’re strong but they might not be able to withstand the 6 ft. 1,000 drop test carried out on the ‘drop machine’ which sees demo devices pushed to their limits and hurled on the ground by someone who I can only imagine is the least-stressed employee in the world.
Multi-material, multi-colour medical model from the J750.
With enhanced colours and textures and a 14 micron layer resolution, prototypes look and feel like they would on a final part which makes the iteration process much faster and gives designers, engineers and marketers a realistic product model to work with. Efficiency is further helped by the J750’s large, six-material capacity and new print heads, meaning they’ve effectively done away with the “irritating” materials changing process and builds can now be completed in half the time of other PolyJet systems. The machine currently operates with existing Stratasys materials (Digital ABS, flexible to rigid, matte to glossy, hard to soft) but there was a hint about the possibility of this changing in the near future.
“The real driver is, this compression of the prototyping time frame but it’s also this compression of the new product introduction itself and the de-risk of that which I think is really exciting,” Josh
continues. “You can’t really do that with a traditional prototyping machine because they don’t have the finish, they’re not that realistic. So I think it’s going to be really, really great, I think there’s a lot of demand out there.”
One particular demand that was high on the list was workflows. An example like the medical model at the top takes around 10 hours to print and doesn’t require laborious finishing or manually putting together dissimilar parts. In addition to this, they’ve also paired the machine with a new software solution, PolyJet Studio, which is designed to enable anyone with a grasp on Photoshop to access all of these new capabilities, easily. Josh commented: “If you know Photoshop, we can train you to use this machine in 45 minutes.” They want to take the thinking part out of driving a 3D printer, which basically means negating the requirement of a degree to get a design, print ready. Users can simply choose materials, transparencies, rigidity and colours – the entire palette is there on the software to play with - and optimise the build for the most successful and accurate results.
“It simplifies the use of the machine, it simplifies the translation of my design to the print. If we’re really going to free up design, we have to do that generationally, do we have to have AI embedded in the design software," Josh adds.
Otterbox has had the machine in beta mode for the last six months and although Stratasys couldn’t tell us exactly how many companies have taken part in this beta program, we did hear that animation company Laika would be producing its 5th film entirely on the J750 – that’s pretty cool.
Otterbox J750 prototypes.
Stratasys debuted the machine to the wider AM community in St. Louis at the Additive Manufacturing User Group Conference and it is now available to order world-wide – no definitive pricing confirmed but we’re told its somewhere in the bracket between the Connex3 and Objet 1000 Plus. For customers like Otterbox, who say they simply “can’t even quantify the savings” 3D technologies have brought since they introduced their first Zcorp machine back in 2006, perhaps we’ll witness other high-profile customers taking heed.
“When I started playing with the product and we started planning the launch, I started thinking ‘this really is inventing 3D printing again’ and the reason I said that was because that 8 year old, or more appropriately, the CEO, that’s what they think 3D printing is - and it now is that.”