Expert Interview: Roboze CEO Alessio Lorusso on High-Performance and Composite 3D Printing
05 June 2019
Italian 3D printer manufacturer, Roboze, was founded in 2013 with the goal of offering advanced technology for FFF 3D printing. Fast forward six years, Roboze is successfully accomplishing this goal, having launched five 3D printers and 12 different materials. With its range of hardware and material offerings, Roboze has its sights set on industrial markets, including medical, aerospace, automotive and oil and gas.
In this Expert Interview, we’re joined by Roboze CEO, Alessio Lorusso, to discuss the company’s 3D printing technology, high-performance materials and the current outlook for the AM industry.
Could you tell me a bit about Roboze?
At Roboze, we develop and manufacture the most precise FDM 3D printers for composite and high-temperature polymers.
Thanks to their mechanical and chemical properties, our polymers can replace metals in extreme applications in the aerospace, motorsport, automotive, oil and gas and defence industries.
What makes our 3D printers so precise is our patented Beltless System. It enables users to 3D print parts with 25-micron precision and also ensures the repeatability of the parts.
We mainly serve the EMEA, US and Asian markets, with more than 300 of our machines currently in use in over 25 countries.
We have customers like Airbus, GE, Bosch and Merck on our roster, who use our machines every day to produce functional prototypes and end-use parts for extreme applications.
Currently, all other FDM machines available on the market use belts. Our printers, in contrast, don’t use belts. Instead, they use the mechatronics movement enabled by racks and pinions. Our beltless technology is, therefore, six times more accurate than all other belt-based 3D printers.
Alongside machines, Roboze also produces advanced composite materials. What are the advantages of these materials when it comes to manufacturing applications?
Yes, we develop our own materials in-house. We have a team of material scientists and chemists that develop materials based on the applications and requirements of our customers.
We also have an extrusion line in-house, so we are capable of producing customised formulations for certain customers. This is crucial for us because at the end of the day, machines are just machines, but it’s the materials that are the key to helping us unlock new applications, open new markets and acquire new customers.
Currently, our materials are famous for being able to replace metal parts. This is made possible thanks to the special carbon fibre formulation of our materials, which adds stiffness and strength to a part.
Furthermore, we have materials that can conduct electricity and withstand extremes in temperature — either very high or very low temperatures. Our PEEK material is capable of working from -80°C to up to +250°C, so we’re talking about very large temperature differences.
Finally, chemical resistance is another important property that our materials possess. They can resist solvents, which makes them very useful in the production of parts that will be in contact with gasoline and aggressive chemical solvents.
Which industries offer the biggest growth opportunities for Roboze?
Aerospace is a huge opportunity, but you need to be in it for the long term. This is because if you want to introduce something in the aeronautic sector, it can take as long as 10 years before it’s really accepted by the industry, due to the certification challenges.
Right now, we’re very focused on the motorsport, automotive, oil and gas, injection moulding, compression moulding and plastics industries. We’re working towards replacing current traditional methods with 3D printing using composite and high-temperature materials.
Taking the oil and gas industry as an example, in what way can the industry benefit from your technology?
Generally speaking, companies in oil and gas use our technology to produce spare parts for offshore and onshore platforms.
These include parts like valves, gaskets or rings — all the stuff that needs to be replaced immediately in order to avoid disruption to the overall extraction process.
How do you identify when it’s more suitable to use 3D printing over traditional manufacturing techniques?
We suggest using our machines when you need customised, low-volume series production. This means around 2000 to 3000 parts per year. For volumes greater than this, it makes sense to use traditional techniques like injection moulding.
3D printing is particularly suitable when you need to change a design frequently or when you need customised, fast and flexible production.
If you can wait for months, 3D printing is not your technology! But if you need a product tomorrow morning, then 3D printing is the only technology available today that can meet these needs.
What are some of the tips you would give a company looking to get started with 3D printing?
At Roboze, the first thing we do is bring our solutions engineers into the loop. They go into our customers’ facilities to understand where the current problems are, how we can accelerate their product development and how we can cut their production costs and time.
This helps us establish whether there is space to maximise what they do today by introducing our technology.
If it makes sense, only then do we start to talk about incorporating our technology, as probably not all customers will need 3D printing right now. It’s very important for us to provide our solutions to the customers who really need our technology to save time and money.
Are there any challenges you see in terms of accelerating the adoption of the technology?
The most important thing is education. The majority of our customers still don’t really understand the technology well, and don’t know how to use or when to use it. Often they think that you can do anything with a 3D printer and that 3D printing can replace other technologies, which is not true.
So it’s crucial for us to educate the customer on where the use of 3D printing makes sense and where it makes sense to continue to work with your current technology. So education and training are very important to help the customer to integrate technology in the production processes and to maximise the return on investment.
How do you see additive manufacturing evolving in the future?
I think that all of the different technologies we have today will eventually be streamlined into a few unique machines and processes. Today, there are a lot of technologies for 3D printing; we have machines for metal, plastic and ceramics. I think that in the next 10-15 years, these technologies will come down to a handful of platforms.
The key driver for this will be the need to create a single process to enable unique, finished products. So now we have to start to think about how we can integrate plastics, metals and ceramics into one system to produce parts.
Roboze has recently announced its expansion into Japan. What was the reasoning behind that decision and how do you see the 3D printing landscape in Japan?
Japan, and Asia in general, are very much strategic markets for us.
We tapped into this market mainly because of the automotive industry, which is huge in Japan, and the electronics industry. Our materials are also electrical and thermal insulants, so they can be used to produce housings for electronics. They can also produce all the jigs and fixtures needed for assembly lines in automotive and production lines for smartphones and other electronic equipment.
Furthermore, physics research is huge in Japan. There are many laboratories and research centres that use our machines and materials to create parts for particle accelerators and other research equipment.
Roboze announced €3 million in funding at the end of last year. What does this mean for the company going forward?
We’ll use this funding to accelerate our business growth and advance our development activities. Here at Roboze, we’re very focused on R&D. Currently, we’re working on around seven R&D projects, including new machines, new materials and new applications.
What does the future hold for Roboze?
This year, we plan to have a network in 30 countries, where we’ll introduce new machines and materials. We’re also set to increase our business by 500% based on last year’s results. So there’s some significant business growth ahead of us.
We’re also planning to open an office in California, and looking to expand our business to Germany, which is another huge market for our applications.
To learn more about Roboze, visit: https://www.roboze.com/