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The future of 3D printing

“We are a young, growing company that made some good choices. Our 3D printer is well suited for where the market is right now. For small businesses that already draw in 3D, such as architects and designers, our printer allows them to immediately see what their design looks like. It is perfect for printing prototypes and models. And it speeds up their design process. But it’s also great for consumers who want a product that they can tweak and personalize.”

John van Rooy works at Felix Printers, a young company that produces and sells 3D printers and was founded by former TMC employee Guillaume Feliksdal. John has been at Felix Printers for a couple of months now as the operations manager. He handles all the logistics and gives advice on the strategy and business model.

“Our product, the Felix 3.0, is a plastic extruder, which means it prints plastic objects. Like a normal printer, you have a print head. A plastic wire enters the print head, is heated and out comes small drops of plastic. It’s like a LaserJet, only it keeps moving over the same surface. It follows a certain pattern that was made by the slicer, a computer program that calculates what’s the best route for the head to make the print.”

John tells us that the development of 3D printing is in full throttle. “We can already print with a dual-head. Previously, some forms were not possible to print, because you cannot print on air. Using one of these heads to print support material that is soluble in water, you can now print difficult shapes and simply put the object in water to dissolve the support material and keep the shape you want. Our next printer will be almost completely plug-and-play. And the printer will need much less maintenance. In the non-consumer market there are new technologies where a laser shoots into a liquid bath and solidifies the liquid it touches. It’s very new, and because of the chemicals it’s not for consumers, but it’s very accurate and creates a very smooth surface. And there are already companies printing in even metal. Medical researchers are trying to print in organic material to eventually be able to print human organs. Others are trying to print in titanium. The sheer temperature makes all the variables in the printing process difficult to handle and makes it very difficult to get a good print. But seeing these developments is all very exciting.”

Plastic extruding 3D printing will, however, be the first to enter our homes. And the possibilities will not so much be dependent on the technology, but more on the development of the support software and the community. “The consumer print technology is already there. The community is growing, but needs to grow even more. More drawings need to become available, or it should become easier to use software in order to change an idea or product in an actual printed object. Technically it should be possible to take a picture or video of, for instance, a broken part of your motorbike and then send it to an app or computer program that can analyse it and turn it into a file the printer can use. This doesn’t exist yet, but the first desktop 3d scanners are already available. The future of 3D printing? It will become a normal part of our lives.”

If you're interested in 3D food printing, join our Pizzasession on January 28th.

TMC employeneur Dolf Klomp will tell you about the technology behind 3D food printing and the current state of the technology which is farther than most people think.

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