Expert Interview: Felix Ewald, CEO of DyeMansion
13 July 2017
Above: (Left to right) DyeMansion’s Powershot C for depowdering, DM60 for colouring, and Powershot S for surface finishing
At AMFG, helping our users develop an efficient post-processing stage is a key part of what we do. That’s why we’re always interested in any new technology and processes that will streamline and enhance this stage of 3D printing project workflows. Recently, we’ve been extremely impressed with DyeMansion’s new systems for colouring and finishing SLS prints. The Munich-based team offer a range of post-processing services that focus exclusively on powder-based 3D printing technologies, providing customers with access to a range of sophisticated finishing options that would be difficult to achieve in-house.
We sat down with DyeMansion’s founder and CEO Felix Ewald to discuss the company’s origins, recent successes, and the fundamental challenges the additive manufacturing sector currently faces.
How did you originally become interested in 3D printing, and more specifically, in the finishing stages of the process?
Four years ago, we started our business with 3D-printed smartphone cases. At the beginning, we were not able to achieve parts with a high-quality finish at a reasonable price. The very first cases lost their colour and dyed the trousers of our new customers. So, we were facing an important decision: should we quit the 3D printing business and do something completely new, or should we rather develop our own solution to solve this issue? We decided to go for the last one.
How did that initial interest evolves into the concept for DyeMansion and that, in turn, develop into your current range of services and technology?
After we achieved a long lasting black colour, we wanted to sell cell phone cases again. In early 2014 we luckily met Arno Held from AM Ventures, our investor, who told us that selling smartphone cases is pretty boring and that we should focus on our colouring solution, which was still a challenging job in the whole 3D printing industry. That was the very beginning of the idea behind DyeMansion. Since then, we expanded this idea to become the leading post processing company for powder-based technologies in AM. We developed our colouring system DM60, which is the world’s first system to dye powder-based AM plastics fully automated. Meanwhile we have a colour database with over 400 different RAL and Pantone colours and more than 200 customers. Furthermore, we offer two blasting systems: Powershot C for efficient depowdering of AM plastics and Powershot S for surface finishing.
What is it about powder-based technologies that most excites you compared to other 3D printing methods? Was there a specific moment where you decided this would be your focus?
In our opinion, the most important benefit in powder-based technologies is that they are always geometry independent, which means no additional support structures are required. Definitely one of the biggest advantages compared to SLA or FDM. The next major point is scalability. In the future, those technologies will be incredibly fast. Layer times of under 5 seconds will be possible. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology is just the beginning in this race towards super-fast 3d printing. I think that powder-based technologies perfectly fit into the digital manufacturing market of the future.
How important would you consider automation to be in the development of 3D printing technology? Are there any areas of typical printing operations you feel could benefit from further streamlining and automation?
In the last 20 years everything was about rapid prototyping. The price per part was expensive, but that was okay, since there wasn’t any other opportunity to produce prototypes that fast. The more you go into real manufacturing with high volumes, the more automation is required. Our customers are the perfect example. The more they are convinced of real manufacturing, the more they are willing to invest in the automation technologies like the systems we offer. I’m pretty sure that the most crucial point is the post-processing of the parts. 3D-printed parts need a lot of different post-processing steps to achieve the required finish, especially when it comes to consumer products. Before we came up with the first automated solutions, everything was done by hand. Our vision is to automate all required processes.
What have been some of the most interesting finishing projects DyeMansion have been involved with recently? Have there been any that you see as having serious long-term implications for the 3D printing sector?
The first consumer products that go into high-volume additive manufacturing right now are 3D-printed eyewear frames. This year over 500,000 frames will be produced. Approximately 70% of them are processed with our technologies. For example, we collaborate with eyewear manufacturers like ic! berlin. Another interesting topic in the industry is on-demand manufacturing of spare parts. We work with different automotive companies to scale up their projects. And we are involved in some projects on 3D-printed shoe soles, but, in my opinion, the technologies are still too expensive for serious mass manufacturing for now. One of our biggest projects in the nearer future will be with IKEA and Wazp. They just announced our collaboration on developing their new collection OMEDELBAR, which will be their first ever 3D-printed objects.
Metal 3D printing has made a big impact in recent years. Would you say this has affected the perception and usage of plastic-based materials for industrial 3D printing?
Indeed. I don’t think it affected plastic materials directly, but the awareness for additive manufacturing increased dramatically through metal 3D printing. From my point of view, the most important thing was the entrance of HP as a big player in AM. HP’s technology and their announcements forced many companies to think that it’s the right time to start with 3D printing. Although their greyish parts are not perfect for our colouring technology, we are able to colour them in a brilliant deep black and already managed to develop different shades of grey and some certain colour tones, which go very well with HP’s grey raw material. So, we are really happy that HP entered the market.
What do you see as the main obstacles when it comes to developing an effective post-processing stage, particularly when it comes to production parts? What would you like to see become available in terms of tools/best practice to help meet these challenges?
I think there won’t be a big bottleneck in post-processing any more, when it comes to high-volume manufacturing. The automation of post-processing just started and there is still a lot of manual work needed. In the future, there will definitely be plenty of solutions, and we are confident to be one of the big players within this specific market! Processes need to improve in consistency and reliability. I think there also has to be an inline quality control of production processes.
How do you see 3D printing fitting into Industry 4.0 as a whole in the years ahead?
It will be one of the key elements, even if some people still underestimate 3D printing right now. In Industry 4.0, everything is about digitalisation. And no other manufacturing technology is as digital as 3D printing. You just send a CAD file around the world and print it on demand within 24 hours, whenever and wherever it’s needed, without restrictions in geometry.