Beautiful Barcelona houses a charming intersection of gothic architecture, twentieth century art, and burgeoning twenty-first century technology. Serving as the site of last week’s insightful HP Global Innovation Summit, the city welcomed journalists and analysts from around the world to share in two days of insights into the heart of disruptive technologies. 3D printing and immersive computing represent keys to the future of disruption — and to Industry 4.0. Never content to go along for the journey, global mainstay HP Inc. is working to secure a driver’s seat to this future, focusing on reinventing for this onward momentum.

While the first day of the summit focused on HP and its approaches and offerings, the second day featured customer and partner stories highlighting real-world implementation of 3D printing and immersive computing technologies. With rising global installations of Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology, partners including the newly-opened International Advanced Manufacturing 3DHUB (IAM 3DHUB) serve as viable examples of additive manufacturing in use today. During the summit, reports from France-based Sculpteo, Barcelona-based FICEP S3,  and Belgium-based ZiggZagg provided further first-hand experiences bringing MJF to the everyday of industry.

A 3D printing panel opened the morning, as Vice President and General Manager of Multi Jet Fusion Ramon Pastor moderated a session including Sculpteo CEO and Co-Founder Clément Moreau, FICEP S3 Director Nuno Neves, and ZiggZagg CEO Stijn Paridaens.

3D Printing Panel L-R: Paridaens, Neves, Moreau, Pastor

“We started with 3D printing out of necessity, to design new machinery, innovative machinery; we had a lot of troubles getting optimal geometries by machining, so we adopted 3D printing,” Neves explained of his company’s approach to incorporating additive manufacturing. “Now we do R&D in additive manufacturing for other companies, helping other companies get to where we are now. We’ve been here eight years, and doing 3D printing for a year and a half — it was HP who introduced us to 3D printing.”

ZiggZagg has been on the market now for about seven years, and started working with HP’s 3D printers about a year ago. The company went from one machine to six machines over the last twelve months, and Paridaens noted that they see “a lot more to come; we see a huge market opening up with this technology.”

Sculpteo, which started with 3D printing for rapid prototyping, now incorporates the technology throughout its operations alongside other manufacturing technologies and uses 3D printing for mass production.

“We are a manufacturing center, not that much a design center; our customers do pretty much everything,” Moreau noted, showing a 3D printed helmet Sculpteo created using HP’s technology. “Multi Jet Fusion for this type of product is definitely the only good possibility that you have. This is a new type of product, a new type of geometry — you cannot make this by injection molding.”

Geometries, strength, and price points were the major factors that each of the three kept returning to, as Neves noted that making one of their Da Vinci Paint Machines using MJF eliminates about 2,000 molds and that, effectively, the company’s investment into the industrial 3D printer was reutrned through the course of making just one machine.

“I agree that price is one of the reasons to adopt MJF,” Paridaens said. “We are planning to purchase an additional five printers by the end of the year… We add some sort of a value to a part that helps the customer that can only be produced by 3D printing… Really making now the strategy of mass customization and mass production, we see a large market opening up… As of now, I believe customers are still not ready if you go right toward them, but if you have large concerns, large companies” employing the technology, adoption becomes more likely. “Also new materials coming up are one of the key factors why we decided to adopt this technology.”

Trust, Pastor underscored, is “key to adoption” for new technologies. In many sectors, such as engineering, potential adopters are often risk-averse and prefer to stay to tried-and-true techniques in which they trained — even if that training was decades ago. Learning the intricacies of a new approach requires significant dedication, as, for example, design for additive manufacture (DfAM) represents a wholly new approach distinct from traditional design for machining or other subtractive technologies. Dedicating time, floorspace, and other resources to a new suite of technologies requires trust that the process will be worth it. Pastor asked the gathered executives about their thoughts on the key factors to unlock the market and accelerate adoption.

“Company engineers are the key factor, they are the ones making the designs,” Paridaens said. “We see in Belgium that education is now keeping up, kids in college are introduced to the technology. When we go to the customer, they say, ‘We have done it this way for decades, let’s do it this way.’ It’s a matter of trust. It needs to be proven.”

Building on that response, Neves added, “People keep designing parts the way they’ve always done it… With MJF, what’s hardest is getting people to actually come, to see the product, touch it with their hands. We end up giving away a lot of samples… The key word is implementation… If you keep doing things the way you’ve been doing them, if you design as you’ve been designing, you won’t design anything new.”

Neves noted as well that truly understanding the technology and its capabilities allows for informed design that enables the right design the first time. While 3D printing famously speeds iteration and prototyping processes, understanding the control of dimensional precision — as well as how a part will cool, and so contract or expand — allows for a speedier time to market for final parts production. DfAM requires significant attention and energy, but once through the learning curve, proves itself with a fast ROI and ensuing profit, Neves added later when we sat down for a lengthier conversation.

During the panel, Pastor asked Moreau, Neves, and Paridaens to “open your crystal balls for a look into how you see the future” and what challenges 3D technologies will have in unveiling this future.

“3D printing, or additive manufacturing, really becomes a manufacturing technology for everyone,” Moreau began.

“One key thing, we learn that education is key, design is key, software is also very important — the way you organize a factory software-wise is very important. An additive manufacturing factory is not just a factory with additive manufacturing; it’s something you need to handle very carefully. You cannot organize a short-run production factory in exactly the same way you would organize a mass production factory. New software tools need to be involved and imlemented. In this way, I think we can have additive manufacturing factories everywhere, in service bureaus as well as in customer hands.”

Sculpteo, for its part, certainly understands the wide reach of 3D printing, as its global operations are up and running to serve a broad variety of customers with a variety of manufacturing technologies. Late last year, the company introduced its Fabpilot software, designed first for internal use to connect operations at its Paris and San Francisco facilities, and broadened for customer use to smooth workflows for 3D printing for production.

Moreau discusses details a of a 3D printed helmet

Neves underscored the importance of software, building on Moreau’s point. More accurate simulation is a specific need for the future of additive manufacturing, as current solutions “don’t always hold up.” As an example, he pointed to a part from FICEP that breaks at a 20 kilogram load; “SOLIDWORKS says it should break at 16 kg; on the one side this is good, it’s stronger than we think; on the other hand, we use more material than we need to because of this.” Understanding the exact load capabilities is necessary for designing for the requisite strength of a given part, including the amount of material. Simulation is certainly in focus for many software companies in the 3D space, and Neves’ crystal ball reading on this front aligns well here.

Looking more deeply into his crystal ball, Neves noted embedded electronics as a next big thing for 3D printing. This development is held back not only by today’s additive manufacturing capabilities, but by industry standardization in the form of a common connector for sensors.

“This will be a lot of work, and everyone has to work together,” he noted. “HP has to work with its customers to basically evangelize this industry. Once we make parts for a customer, they are a repeat customer. This is quite nice. It’s getting this person, this company, to take the responsibility, the ‘Yeah, I want to try this.'”

Speaking as well to the future in a Q&A with the gathered attendees, Moreau added that another trend Sculpteo is seeing comes in the form of requested materials. Flexible and food- and skin-contact safe materials are at the top of the request list. FICEP and ZiggZagg do most of their 3D printing work in HP’s available materials, with PA 12 dominant for both at present. Future materials offerings hold great interest to both of these companies, but PA 12 is expected to remain a mainstay even as additional, particularly more flexible, materials emerge.

“What else I would like to see is metal, but that’s a different machine,” Neves said — and indeed, HP has announced its intent to offer a metal 3D printing system.

An interesting and important issue that Paridaens raised as well was in response to a question in which it was suggested that additive manufacturing may take the place of traditional techniques.

“It’s funny how you use the word ‘replace.’ I don’t think additive manufacturing will replace traditional manufacturing — it will add to traditional manufacturing,” he said. “It’s not the holy grail. It’s something that can help in a prototyping stage up to the production stage.”

3D printing is, indeed, a manufacturing technology, not a magical answer (or, going back to the days of high hype, a Replicator from the Enterprise). Recognizing the complementary nature of these technologies for industry is a key part of the adoption and education process, and Paridaens’ underscoring this messaging in a discussion of real-world applications was a well-placed reminder that disruption doesn’t necessarily mean full-on displacement.

Following this panel discussion, immersive computing took center stage with insights in real-world applications for personalized footwear.

I also sat down for longer conversations with Paridaens and Neves later, including a visit to FICEP’s facility outside Barcelona, for additional insights into their implementation of 3D printing into their workflow and strategic approaches — stay tuned for these interviews and more from my whirlwind time in Barcelona.

Discuss HP, Multi Jet Fusion, the future of manufacturing, and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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