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A Paradigm Shift in Industrial 3D Printing?

Less than €2500 for a 3D printer that can print various materials and electronic printed circuit board tracks fully automatically? Simply printing one’s next mobile phone at home – sounds too good to be true. Sadly, it is. As of January 2017, the Berlin-based start-up Next Dynamics was still trying to get enough money through crowd sourcing to produce the above-mentioned printer. Following accusations of fraud, Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform in question, had terminated the campaign.

06.03.2017

Whilst it is true that 3D printers are not yet present in every household, they are well established in industry. Today’s prototypes are printed out on 3D printers; in the automotive sector, replacement parts and tools are printed in 3D; and the aerospace industry is fabricating entire turbine components using additive 3D printing technology. 

However, time remains the main barrier in the industrial context. It often takes longer than 24 hours to product complex components on 3D printers. In addition, CAD files need to be prepared in advance and it is frequently necessary to finish the printed components manually. 

The company “3D Systems” is now trying a new approach to bring about a paradigm shift to mass production with 3D printers. Based in Carolina (USA), 3D Systems is not only a global market leader in 3D printer production, but is also home to the inventor of stereolithography (keyword: Rapid Manufacturing) Chuck Hull, currently CTO of the company. 
3D Systems developed a modular combined 3D printer and conveyor belt system, which works somewhat like an inkjet printer with multiple print heads. Instead of a stationary print bed and moveable print heads, the product in this configuration moves from one print head to another on a conveyor belt, which enables the use of linear production of single components at a rate said to be some 50 times faster than today’s industrial grade 3D printers. 

Should they succeed in bringing this product to market, it will make it possible to embed 3D print technology in conventional production systems and plant which represents a major advance towards the industrialised mass production of 3D printed products. Perhaps the production of most everyday items made of plastic and metal is and will remain the preserve of industrial enterprises and your kitchen Thermomix® will not be getting company any time soon.

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