What Ultimaker’s Rebranding Says About the Industrialisation of 3D Printing
[Image credit: Ultimaker]
Earlier this month, desktop 3D printer manufacturer, Ultimaker, announced a new branding strategy, aimed at strengthening its focus as a B2B company.
Ultimaker’s new business trajectory points to a broader trend within the 3D printing market: the shift towards industrial applications of the technology, as businesses begin to recognise the industrial potential of 3D printing. And Ultimaker is not the only company reflecting this trend.
In today’s article, we’ll explore key examples that demonstrate how 3D printing has evolved to become an industrial, business solution.
Making the leap from consumer to industrial 3D printing
When it was founded in 2011, Ultimaker’s vision was to make 3D printing accessible to all. The Dutch manufacturer of desktop 3D printers aimed to manufacture DIY kits for the maker community.
“We always saw a real difference in the consumer market, where the people who were already pretty hardcore makers or hobbyists would already have the necessary equipment at home. And we thought that was a good market for 3D printing,” said former Ultimaker North America President, John Kawola, in an interview with AMFG.
However, the burst of the consumer 3D printing bubble between 2013 and 2014 soon saw hardware manufacturers begin to make the shift towards industrial applications.
As Kawola noted last year, “We’ve continued to evolve the business into something that has become much more enterprise and professional in 2018. So while we still sell to the maker crowd and to education, the vast majority of our business is now selling to big, enterprise companies.”
While Ultimaker continues to serve the makerspace community and educational sector, new customers on the industrial side like Ford, Airbus and Volkswagen Autoeuropa have highlighted the growing demand for enterprise 3D printing solutions. Large companies like these use Ultimaker’s 3D printers to produce tooling, jigs and fixtures for industrial applications.
Progressively, the company has been adjusting its strategy to reflect this increased need for professional desktop 3D printers. A key milestone was the release of Ultimaker’s S5 FDM 3D printer in 2018.
The new dual-extrusion 3D printer is intended to be a “complete professional 3D printing solution”. The machine has a larger build volume of 33 x 24 x 30 cm compared to the previous Ultimaker 3’s 21.5 x 21.5 x 30 cm, enabling the production of larger parts.
Furthermore, the Ultimaker S5 can work with high-temperature engineering materials like polycarbonate and nylon, reportedly producing prints with high quality and reliability — key requirements for a machine designed for use in a professional environment.
By adapting to the changing market, the Dutch manufacturer has made an enormous step toward the professional, high-end market. To reinforce its new trajectory, Ultimaker announced a new corporate branding, which, according to the company, demonstrates its commitment to accelerating the adoption of 3D printing for distributed manufacturing.
MakerBot: shifting to the professional 3D printing market
MakerBot’s release of its Method 3D printer tells a similar story. The company grew out of the RepRap movement in 2009, becoming one of the most well-known consumer 3D printer brands in the market. In 2013, Makerbot was acquired by Stratasys.
In recent years, MakerBot has begun to revamp its strategy, now actively targeting the professional and education markets.
While MakerBot has developed a large installed base across the educational sector, penetrating more industrial markets remained a challenge for some time.
“We could not unlock the professional market with the current desktop 3D printers, including our own,” explains Nadav Goshen, MakerBot President and CEO, in an interview with 3D Printing Industry.
In a bid to boost its presence within the professional space, MakerBot launched its Method FDM 3D printer at the end of 2018. This entry-level 3D printer has been developed to bring industrial 3D printing technology to an accessible desktop 3D printer that can be used in engineering offices and design centres.
Leveraging Stratasys’ industrial expertise and know-how, MakerBot has managed to improve the process and technology behind the Method compared to its earlier machines. The Method has a number of industrial features, including ± 0.2 mm dimensional accuracy, dual extrusion and a circulating heated chamber facilitating higher part strength.
With a new product offering, Makerbot has realigned the company’s focus with the general trend of developing professional yet affordable 3D printing solutions. This trend points to desktop 3D printing’s firm shift towards industrial applications. Ultimately, this will enable more companies to benefit from accessible 3D printers packed with industrial-grade performance.
A vision of autonomous additive manufacturing
Although slower than hardware, the software space, too, has been advancing in response to the industrialisation of 3D printing.
Increasingly, companies are integrating 3D printing into their operations beyond rapid prototyping. However, integrating the technology into production processes poses a lot of challenges which, in many cases, require software to solve.
Take workflow management as an example. Eventually, companies adopting 3D printing for production will find their volumes growing as the technology becomes more established internally.
With this growing capacity, however, comes the need for the right software architecture to support this growth. Without an adequate end-to-end workflow system in place, companies will struggle to manage the influx of orders and track individual parts.
At AMFG, we saw that need early on, which was the impetus behind expanding our software capabilities to help businesses run their 3D printing production more efficiently.
For this, we have developed a comprehensive solution to manage the workflow from request management to production scheduling and post-processing management.
In line with this expansion, our company rebranded as AMFG in 2018. The new brand name stands for ‘Autonomous Manufacturing’ and reflects our vision of helping companies on their journey towards fully automated 3D printing workflows.
From prototyping to production applications
Embracing 3D printing for applications beyond prototyping serves as yet another indicator of how the technology is maturing.
Engineering firm, Boyce Technologies, is a case in point.
The company was initially doubtful about how 3D printing could be implemented effectively within its workflow. However, in 2017 Boyce Technologies decided to test a large-scale BigRep Studio 3D printer to make lightweight prototypes for communications systems like information kiosks and emergency response systems.
Boyce soon discovered that the technology could be used to make certain end-use parts, like air handling, exhaust and intake components that are used inside digital information kiosks. This shift from prototyping to production applications was largely encouraged by the speed with which the company was able to move from the design stage it production.
For Boyce Technologies, this willingness to experiment with 3D printing has helped to make the technology a key part of their business. Now, the company says it uses 3D printing for production applications 90% of the time.
3D printing moves into production for automotive parts
Another great example of a company evolving the application area for 3D printing is Ford Motor Company.
The automaker is one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing, having purchased the third 3D printer ever made some 30 years ago.
Over the years, Ford’s use of 3D printing has grown from being a part of its product development to becoming a key technology to support manufacturing.
The latter is demonstrated by Ford’s collaboration with Carbon, a developer of quick, layer-less Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology.
The use of photopolymer 3D printing technology from Carbon enables Ford to produce end-use parts for its Ford Focus, Ford F-150 Raptor and Ford Mustang GT500 cars. The parts range from HVAC lever arm service parts to auxiliary plugs and electric parking brake brackets.
The capabilities of 3D printing and materials have matured to be able to meet strict requirements, such as resistance to short and long-term heat exposure, UV stability, fluid and chemical resistance, flammability and fogging for the selected applications.
With the examples of Ford and Boyce in mind, it’s clear how much 3D printing has evolved over the last decade. By enabling end-part production, 3D printing has definitely crossed the threshold where it can begin to be used on par with conventional production technologies.
3D printing: a maturing technology
3D printing is heading into maturity, establishing itself as a key part of the wider manufacturing ecosystem And there are multiple signs to support this evolution.
Over the last few years, many companies have recognised that the professional, B2B space is where the biggest value of 3D printing lies.
In addition to those mentioned above, 3D Hubs, once a community-based marketplace, has recently shifted its focus to the B2B industrial space. It now serves a professional market, establishing a network of manufacturing partners, with access to traditional manufacturing services, in addition to additive manufacturing.
With the evolving 3D printing market, the technology itself is becoming more industrialised. We see a lot more applications of 3D printing in end-part production, as its users become more confident in the ability of the technology to deliver high-quality parts.
Going forward, these trends show no signs of slowing down. This means that 3D printing is set to move onwards and upwards, empowering companies to enhance their production.