Video: Are FDM Machines Competitive in Industrial 3D Printing?

Judging by new developments at Ultimaker, the answer is yes.

Jim Anderton: Fused Deposition Modeling is a well proven method of resin 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. I’m with John Kawola, president of Ultimaker North America. John, there are a lot of machines out there in sort of the “maker space,” in which a kid can spend, say, 250 bucks, and can put something on their desktop.

John Kawola: sure.

JA: However, this technology is more than just one off’s and prototypes today. Is this a real production technology?

JK: Our company has evolved over the last few years from selling to that individual user, that “maker” crowd, and our business has certainly transitioned pretty quickly into being much more of a professional tool not just for prototyping, but for starting to move into jigs and fixtures, and tools, and in some cases short-run production. I think it’s a testament to some of our hard work, and a little bit of luck, but also, I think the fact that the platform is open source and also our platform is open materials has contributed to the lots of people that have been able to participate in helping us bring this to market.

JA: I understand that you launched a new machine, the S5 Platform?

JK: The S5 has debuted this week in two locations one in Germany at the Hanover show, and here at RAPID here in Texas. The S5 is our next model in the line. It brings more automation, it’s actually a larger platform, and it has more capability in terms of composite materials. We came out with the Ultimaker 3 about 18 months ago, which was really our first step into this industrial market, and we’ve been bringing the capability that most of our customers want.

JA: You brought up materials. Now, for FDM, of course, uses a filament material. In the past, there have been some hardware manufacturers that tend to have a proprietary, sort of ‘locked in’ supply chain: you bought the machine, you had to buy the inputs as well.

JK: That’s right.

JA: So, you’re saying you don’t follow that philosophy?

JK: We don’t. We certainly we have some of our partners make materials for us, and we brand those materials, and we sell those materials, and we benefit from that, but what we believed in and still believe in strongly is that the collective minds of the plastics industry is much larger than what we could ever do, and so what we’re now seeing is some of the largest plastics companies in the world really wanting to participate in this market. Where, to your point, in the past they’ve been somewhat shut out of that. So we’re excited about that opportunity, they’re excited about that opportunity, and their customers who buy engineering plastics and materials for production are very excited about that.

JA: In the prototyping world, historically, it was okay to use a material which mimicked the properties of a production material. For example if the production part might have been high density polyethylene or polypropylene, it may have been okay to use, say, PLA or something as long as, from a functional standpoint, it was a close enough analog. Of course, if you’re a manufacturing engineering professional, as I was, you know that ideally, in a perfect world, you’d really like the prototype and the pilot run parts to be the same material as the production part.

JK: And that’s the point! That’s the big point about the plastics companies wanting to get more involved. They’re getting demand from some of their big customers using a certain grade of engineering materials, and the thought is, ‘well, what if I went all the way upstream?’ whether it’s in prototyping or in early stage concepts or pre-production to be able to use, It won’t be exactly the same material, because the process would be different in terms of injection molded versus 3d printing, but if they’re actually using the same grade of material I think there’s a real value to that. There’s a feel-good factor to that, that they’re using that same material and, in some cases, also a certification benefit. They’re using the same material all the way through the process to make our equipment moving for the design office out of the factory floors at the future, because that’s starting now. I mean we often talk about two environments: one is the carpet floor which is the prototyping and then more and more we hear here about the concrete floor. Our products are primarily optimized for the carpet, but we have lots of applications with our customers bringing it into the factory, using it for jigs and fixtures or tools. That’s the direction that we’re headed.

JA: John Kawola says Ultimaker is moving from the design office to the factory floor for mass production additive parts.

For more information, visit Ultimaker’s website.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.