Prodways to Lead Next Wave of Innovation with Production SLS and MOVINGLight 3D Printers
Davide Sher posted on June 02, 2016 |
ENGINEERING.com is given a private tour of the Prodways 3D printing facility in France.

From record-breaking continuous digital light processing (DLP) speeds to massive size selective laser sintering (SLS) and MOVINGLight 3D printing for industrial production, Group Gorgé’s 3D printing division, Prodways, has been growing at breakneck speeds over the past three years and is now ready to become a major player in the global landscape. 

From left to right: Philippe Laude, CEO of Prodways, and Rapahel Gorgé, CEO of Group Gorgé. (Image courtesy of the author.)
From left to right: Philippe Laude, CEO of Prodways, and Rapahel Gorgé, CEO of Group Gorgé. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Group Gorgé’s global headquarters is located in Les Mureaux, a small town near Paris. Raphael Gorgé, the Group’s CEO, has grown the company, founded by his father, into a global player in the advanced manufacturing sector, with over €280 million in yearly revenues and 1,500 employees worldwide. In 2013, Raphael Gorgé identified 3D printing as the most strategic area to further grow the company’s business in the future. He began by acquiring Prodways, an industrial 3D printer manufacturer, founded by André-Luc Allanic, and based around Allanic’s unique MOVINGLight DLP technology.

A lot has happened since then. “At the time, we were only using 3D printing for prototyping,” Gorgé recalled in an interview with ENGINEERING.com. “I thought of helping Prodways with our expertise in the development and manufacturing of high-tech products. This was three years ago, and our progress since then is comparable to the progress made by our competitors over 15 years. The more we invest time in this field, the more opportunities we identify.” 

Prodways makes no secret of wanting to become a major player in the world of professional and industrial-grade 3D printing, facing off with current industry leaders such as 3D Systems and Stratasys. Like its competitors, Prodways has been on a “shopping spree”; however, the presence of a financially solid group behind the 3D printing division (a situation similar to that of British 3D printer manufacturer Renishaw) gives potential investors more confidence in the highly volatile additive manufacturing (AM) segment.

Materials, Machines and Process Control

This means that Prodways believed in 3D printing’s production capabilities from the beginning and, now that the transition from rapid prototyping to AM is taking place, it is ideally positioned to take advantage of the investments made over the last three years. Gorgé identifies 3D printing as a combination of machine, material and process. “We need to control all three of these aspects,” he said.

The 2014 acquisition of DeltaMed, a German company based in Frankfurt that specializes in materials, offered the group an entry into the materials market with the additional advantage offered by DeltaMed’s experience in medical applications. In late 2015, Prodways also added polymer specialist company ExcelTec. “The result is that we were able to produce and sell materials even to some of our competitors, which clearly shows how strongly we have positioned ourselves in the market,” Gorgé concluded.

The Gorgé family still owns about two-thirds of the company’s shares, and the company has enjoyed support from French investment funds, raising more capital. All of this provided Prodways with a financially stable environment to grow, a luxury in the roller-coastering 3D printing sector. In fact, Group Gorge’s stock (GOE:FP on the Paris Stock Exchange) was the only one in all of 3D printing that not only did not crash, but also remained stable near its mid-2014 high, peaking again in 2015 at around EUR€25 (USD$27.84), and not losing much since then.

“We acquired DeltaMed, because from the very beginning, we understood that there was no point in having a good technology without R&D control in the material sector.” Within a five-year time span, the company’s goal is to be able to provide production-capable systems for AM. In order to accommodate growing demands for production of end use parts, Prodways began investing in SLS technology. It acquired Norge, a small Italian startup that had designed and developed one of the first prototypes for a low-cost SLS system, and then formed a strategic partnership with Farsoon, a Chinese manufacturer of large production-class laser sintering systems. The agreement gave Prodways the possibility to further develop machines and materials to distribute globally, with the Norge team now working internally on R&D for all SLS. “We knew that developing products internally would take a long time, so we formed strategic partnerships,” Gorgé said. “We combine the R&D achievements of various companies to bring the best solutions to the market, and we do this by providing an open materials platform to all the key players that can collaborate to bring value.”

The team from Norge, working on SLS R&D for Prodways. (Image courtesy of the author.)
The team from Norge, working on SLS R&D for Prodways. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Along with materials and machines, the final element in Prodways’ business development strategy is process control. For this it has acquired INITIAL, the largest French 3D printing service provider, which offers the full range of 3D printing technologies, including liquid resin, powder and metal. INITIAL brought a portfolio of over 1,200 customers for industrial small batch manufacturing. Philippe Laude, Prodways CEO, explained that “[at Prodways] we help companies transition their traditional applications into 3D printing applications. Beyond medical, aerospace is another key market that we are present in. We can now bring plastic and metal solutions to this sector, and we want to be a strong competitor and provide service to all major manufacturers, including Airbus and Boeing.”

A Production Plant for Production 3D Printers

The company’s manufacturing plant, where most of the process and machine R&D activities take place, is located in an open space of approximately 10,000 to 20,000 mq inside the Les Mureaux headquarters. Throughout the huge plant there are stations covered by tents, which is where the hardware for top-secret projects are housed. More process R&D takes place in adjacent closed-door rooms. This is where Prodways engineers test the reliability of the production-grade MOVINGLight systems. The largest one, the ProMaker L7000 D, features a granite build platform, which allows for increased stability and improved productivity by reducing the need for support structures. Its build platform measures an impressive 800 x 330 x 200 mm and has two UV DLP heads. 

A view of the Prodways warehouse, where most of the 3D printers are built. (Image courtesy of the author.)
A view of the Prodways warehouse, where most of the 3D printers are built. (Image courtesy of the author.)

The name “MOVINGLight” is due to the fact that the DLP heads actually move around to rapidly polymerize several different objects or several parts of very large objects, without the need to move the build platform and thus without wasting time in stabilizing it. This enables the machine to reach speeds that are up to 10 times faster than any other DLP system, without sacrificing precision (with a 40 micron native resolution). Prodways’ best-selling system, the slightly smaller ProMaker L5000, is positioned between EUR€200,000 (USD$222,750) and EUR€300,000 (USD$334,125).

A print made with the ultraclear PLASTCure Clear 200 material for MOVINGLight technology. (Image courtesy of the author.)
A print made with the ultraclear PLASTCure Clear 200 material for MOVINGLight technology. (Image courtesy of the author.)

One of the main advantages offered by Prodways to its customers is materials variety and quality. One of the most impressive is its PLASTCure Clear 200 highly transparent material; however, possibly the most fascinating and strategic materials for Prodways are high-performance ceramics. These, however, require a separate range of machines, starting with the ProMaker V6000. This system processes highly viscous materials and can produce parts with very high density, reaching 95–99 percent for ceramic. The ceramics begin as highly viscous pastes that are polymerized by the DLP head. The solid, “green,” ceramic parts are then extracted from the paste and post-processed in a dedicated furnace. What emerges in the end is a white and dense high-resolution ceramic part.

Getting Ahead

Having established a strong presence in the key US market, with a subsidiary in Minneapolis and a new site that opened recently in Austin, Tex., Prodways has identified Germany as the other key market, while a new Asian subsidiary will soon be established in Bangkok. The goal to create a capillary global distribution starts with continuing innovations and strong R&D investments. In one recent example, Prodways showed a video of an internally developed continuous DLP technology 3D printing a Statue of Liberty at twice the speed as industry-leading CLIP technology. At the recent RAPID 2016, the company unveiled the ProMaker P1000, the first sub-EUR€100,000 (USD$115,000) industrial SLS 3D printer, as well as a partnership with BASF for the use of its PA6 nylon material.

Prodways’ new sub-$115,000 SLS 3D printer, leveraging Farsoon and Norge technology. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)
Prodways’ new sub-$115,000 SLS 3D printer, leveraging Farsoon and Norge technology. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)

“Innovation is a core value for Prodways, and we're investing to make sure that we stay ahead of the competition. We believe that the market will go from prototyping to manufacturing, and to do that you need high levels of reliability. We want to make sure that Prodways’ reputation remains optimal, and we want to show our customers that we can accomplish what we promise. We like to maintain long-term partnerships that are not only beneficial to us but our customers as well. We employ high-level professionals from all over the world and we have great ambitions as a growth opportunity such as that offered by 3D printing only presents itself once in a lifetime.” 

The future for 3D printing is undoubtedly bright; however, the transition from a prototyping to a production technology is a challenging one for any enterprise and not one that every company is going to be able to make. Prodways’ head start could make all the difference in the world.


About the Author

Davide Sher (@davidesher) has been a tech journalist for a variety of publications since 2002. In 2013, he founded a leading Italian 3D printing news site, IL REPLICATORE. He went on to become senior writer for 3D Printing Industry, before the company was sold in 2016. Sher currently writes for several key 3D printing news sites, in Italy and internationally. In 2016, he founded the 3Dprintingbusiness.directory, the largest global listing of 3D printing companies, with nearly 3,000 firms listed and categorized.

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