Co-Session#24 (II) 3D Business: A time for interactions and cutting edge uses

BY Fernando L. Mompó on 24 / 12 / 2015

In Co-Session#24, getting to know how different companies are using 3D technologies involved more than just listening to their speeches. Members of Co-Society had a time to interact face to face with the representatives of these companies in order to follow up on any questions that came up during the presentation, get answers in greater detail and have a chance to touch some of the products and prototypes shown, with the objective to perhaps explore a possible collaboration in the future.

Taking advantage of our host

There was also a time to take advantage of the venue for this Co-Session and visit our host’s facilities. Set out as an educational project but still aspiring to financial sustainability, Fundació CIM has a site of over 1,500 m2 distributed across different halls where different activities take place, such as a production line with rapid manufacturing equipment and the “farm” of self-replicating 3D printers participating in the international project RepRap.

Under the name BCN3D Technologies, the organisation combines activities designed to develop its own product. BCN3D sold its 1,000th 3D printer in 2014. The rapid growth in demand and some ambitious targets suggest that it will be manufacturing printer number 10,000 in 2016. Some of the latest orders received by the Foundation are a request to manufacture the first series of wing mirrors for the Ferrari Berlinetta F12, printing scale models for several prestigious architecture studios, protection for the lower mounting of the Audi Q3 and the production of personalised glasses for INDO (see below). At the same time, CIM continues to develop future projects such as research into new materials, multimaterial printing or setting up an online platform for 3D printing.

Cutting edge uses

Later, afternoon was dedicated to know the cases of a couple of organizations that are already using 3D in a really very innovative and disruptive way. This is when 3D printing really shows itself as a technology that could radically change processes or business models. For instance, the way to eliminate a tumour or fabricate and sell glasses.

Hospital Sant Joan de Dèu is currently evaluating the use of 3D printing in the practice of surgical oncology. Dr. Lucas Krauel from the Department of Paediatric Surgery has used 3D printing of tumours on various occasions in order to plan and simulate the surgical removal of a tumour prior to surgical intervention. This practice has proved to be efficient in complex cases in which the tumours are dangerously entangled with the vital organs. Printing is done in different materials for better simulation of different consistencies, as well as anatomical relationships between tumours and the surrounding organs. The results are positive, but certain barriers, such as cost, improving the materials to create a printed model even more similar to the organs themselves, or simplifying the process of creating virtual models from medical images and scanners still need to be overcome.

INDO is a spectacle frame manufacturer that joined a consortium conducting an innovation project financed by a European Union framework program. The main aim of the “Made for You” project was to explore new business models based on customised manufacturing of products. The result is a concept test of the technologies and processes needed for Indo to be able to offer frames adapted to the tastes and ergonomic features of each customer. The process starts by scanning the wearer’s face to create a virtual model which can be used to try on the spectacle designs before purchase; this could even be done online. This form of production could do away with large numbers of frames that remain unsold each season. It also opens the door to business models in which the customer is charged for the use of each design and not so much for the finished product.

Some numbers before going home

Finally, Felipe Esteve from the Rapid Manufacturing Spanish Association (ASERM) ended the session by updating attendees on the current status of these new technologies and their market. We therefore learned that sales of materials and machinery needed for additive manufacturing are experiencing annual growth of around 30%. Asia and Europe are virtually on a par in terms of the number of systems installed, with a percentage of the global total of about 28%, far below the USA, which is the leader with 40%. But in what was perhaps the most significant statistic in the presentation, we learned that this year the main industrial application of 3D printing has been the manufacturing of functional parts, at 30%, thereby exceeding for the first time its use in producing prototypes that up to now had been at the top of this list. Is this a further sign of the potential of 3D printing to disrupt the type of manufacturing that we have known for the last couple of centuries?

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