Exclusive Interview: UnionTech Discusses New 3D Printers, Open Source Philosophy

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UnionTech is a long-established company, having been founded in China in 2000 and then expanding to the United States in 2016. The company is a leader in stereolithography (SLA/SL) 3D printing, and part of what sets it apart from other SLA providers is its firm belief in open source technology. UnionTech is proof that patents aren’t necessary for a company to remain competitive, and that open source can, in fact, be an advantage for both the company and the overall market. UnionTech has been busy introducing new 3D printers lately, including the large-format RSPro 1400 and the PILOT Commercial series.

We recently spoke with General Manager Jim Reitz about the new machines, the company’s open source philosophy, and the overall 3D printing industry, as well as UnionTech’s place in it.

What do you see as the biggest trends for the 3D printing industry right now?

Jim Reitz

“In many quarters, prototyping as a growth area seems dismissed too readily. The promise of AM disrupting traditional manufacturing seems over-blown. There may be a disconnect between users of 3D printing and those selling the printing technologies. Also, users of the technology are interested in cost effective options that meet their needs. Desk top units, for instance, are enablers that allow designers inexpensive access to prototyping capabilities for the initial iterations of designs before turning to more expensive (and capable production printers).”

How is UnionTech addressing those trends?

“UnionTech has priced the PILOT commercial series for 3D printing users that could benefit from their industrial strength capabilities but have felt previously priced out of the market. The PILOT series starts at under $100,000 for a machine capable of delivering the performance of production SL systems, including the full range of commercial SL materials. UnionTech is also promoting the use of indirect rapid manufacturing techniques as a way to use SL to provide the form for a secondary process to provide function. Examples are patterns for investment casting, urethane molding, thermoforming and metal cladding.”

Why did you decide to introduce a new larger machine in the RSPro 1400? How do you expect it to be received?

“The RSPro 1400 with its 1.4m by 0.7m platform is targeted at production markets in automotive, consumer goods and foundries that can benefit from minimizing secondary operations to join sections of parts. The first machines have already been sold to an appliance manufacturer for printing low volume, large production parts. The same robust, straight forward design principles used in all other UnionTech SL equipment have been employed to provide the large platform capabilities of the RSPro 1400 in a cost effective fashion for the end user. The combination of capability, open source design for materials and cost effectiveness are expected to be well received in the target markets.”

The RSPro 1400 at TCT Asia

Why did UnionTech decide to keep its machines open? How do you think open systems affect the industry as a whole?

“Quite simply, competition in material development encourages innovations that lead to new applications and increased demand for the technology. In the SL market, all the major material innovations have come from independent material companies. Examples include the first epoxy-acrylate hybrids that provided new possibilities in properties and dimensional stability compared to the early acrylate systems, optically clear, colorless systems that facilitated fluid flow analysis applications as well as aesthetic applications in packaging and automotive applications, low moisture and heavy metal free formulations have enabled the growth of SL patterns for investment casting and composite filled SL formulations opened a large new application for wind tunnel test models in aerospace and F-1 industry. While ensuring desirable recurring income for the equipment manufacturer, closed systems inhibit collaboration and innovation and are a barrier to material supplier competition that could favorably affect material pricing.”

Who is the PILOT Commercial series aimed at, and what can it bring to consumers that other systems cannot?

PILOT 450

“UnionTech has priced the PILOT commercial series for 3D printing users that could benefit from their industrial strength capabilities but have felt previously priced out of the market. The PILOT series starts at under $100,000 for a machine capable of delivering the performance of production SL systems, including the full range of commercial SL materials. The photo-chemistries supported by ‘industrial’ 355 nanometer wavelength provide a range of properties and capabilities that higher wavelengths like 405 nm are challenged to match. The larger platform PILOT 450 provides an approximate 18 in by 18 in. platform, layer thicknesses as low as .002 in. and tight tolerances across the entire platform. UnionTech’s open source for materials approach also does not limit the commercial users range of materials to a ‘commercial’ portfolio, allowing users to access the full range of available SL materials as well as any production style application. MJP (multi-jet printers) are one target market segment based on much lower support material requirements.”

Tell us about your PolyDevs software. 

“PolyDevs is a UnionTech software development that provides the commercial PILOT printer a lower cost option for data preparation software. PolyDevs is not intended as a replacement of the ‘higher-powered’ Materialise MAGICS software recommended for the RSPro production series (and available for the PILOT commercial series). PolyDevs reflects the UnionTech open source design philosophy of facilitating user options for materials and software that best meet their needs.”

What else does UnionTech have planned for the near future?

“UnionTech has sold through a single distributor, RP America, since coming to the US market 11/2 years ago. Their technical expertise and customer dedication has helped UnionTech establish a solid reputation with early adopters and is building the UnionTech customer base on a regular basis. We look forward to continuing and expanding this relationship. Meanwhile, UnionTech will be building on our distributor network to increase access of both the commercial PILOT line and the production RSPro series to potential users. Announcements will be forthcoming at AMUG 2018. UnionTech will continue to strongly promote end-use application possibilities for stereolithography. Look for our entry in the upcoming AMUG technical competition that will illustrate how SL can provide a bridge to metal performance.”

UnionTech is at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) conference this week, taking place in St. Louis, Missouri from April 8-12.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Images: UnionTech]

 

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