3D Printing

Another chapter in 3D printing – a new hope for digital printers?

by FESPA | 24/11/2020
Another chapter in 3D printing – a new hope for digital printers?

Full-colour 3D printers are becoming more affordable, potentially opening up new market opportunities. What does this mean for printers?

Mimaki Europe presented the 3DUJ-22 inkjet 3D colour printer with an online press conference in early November. Danna Drion, Senior Marketing Manager at Mimaki Europe commented: "With the introduction of our new 3DUJ-2207 3D Printer, we are offering 10 million colours to new customers, which in turn results in an even quicker uptake of 3D printing technologies as a whole.”
The 3DUJ-22 is due to be launched onto the market as early as January 2021 at approximately €40,000 for German-speaking countries. This is relatively affordable since most professional 3D printers currently on the market are priced at over €100,000.

Caption: Mimaki introduced the new, affordable 3DUJ-22 3D printer in early November 2020. Photo: Mimaki.

The Mimaki 3DUJ-22 is sized at 203 x 203 x 76 mm and is intended for office environments. The machine has been designed to function with minimal noise and features an optional deodorizer that eliminates odours.
“By combining our technological expertise with a wealth of industry experience and market insight, we have been able to create an innovative, inspired solution that merges functionality, affordability and design in a way that really will be game-changing for a lot of creators. This launch will create a world of new possibilities for designers and product developers, for many of whom the idea of high-definition full-colour 3D printing might previously have been out of reach, and that is something we are extremely proud of” said Drion.

3D printing for printers: new opportunities, old problems

Caption: Large-format 3D printing for POS applications from Massivit at FESPA Print Expo 2019. Photo: S. Angerer
Since 2010, 3D printing has become more prevalent across the digital printing industry. The most common 3D printing technologies in the printing industry today include:

  • powder bed
  • filament
  • UV-curing gel.

Today, 3D printers that feature filament technology are widely used for recreational and educational purposes. But even for home use, the hype seems to have dried up. Early attempts to establish the printing of consumer avatars with full-colour powder bed printers have so far proved to be not nearly as profitable as once hoped for.
There various reasons for this, the processing costs are very high for scanning, file clean-up and printing being the most likely culprits, as they add up to high prices for the finished product. However, these high prices have deterred end consumers and in the past early 3D printers were lacking in the choice of colours.
Introduced in 2019, the Mimaki 3DUJ-553 was a predecessor to the now 3DUJ-22.  This printer offered up to 10 million vibrant colours and ensured very good durability of the finished product. The new 3DUJ-22 shares the 3DUJ-553‘s technology.
The Mimaki 3DUJ-22 features consumer avatars in photo studios, copy shops and shopping malls. Due to the long-term travel restrictions during COVID-19, the demand for consumer 3D avatars could very well pick up again. Since many people cannot visit their family, they may want to create a 3D avatar.
Collector items are offering a new market niche for 3D printing however, existing license models could prove to be a problem. In education, 3D printing can make teaching more interactive and easier to visualise. The massive changes that are currently happening across the world in education could very well help pave the way for 3D models in classroom environments, too.

3D printing at POS and elsewhere

Caption: HP's Jet-Fusion technology is primarily targeting industry customers. In picture: HP booth at ISPO Munich 2017 sporting goods trade fair. Photo: S. Angerer
In recent years, large-format 3D figurines from Massivit 3D printers have caused quite a stir in the industry. Thanks to their proprietary UV gel technology, it is possible to print very large sculptures in a short time with Massivit printers. However, these instructions are monochrome, meaning that for most applications they have to be either elaborately painted or wrapped for finishing.
For now, it seems that many of the typical market niches for large-format 3D printing may disappear for an extended period. The demand for POS applications has dropped significantly because of repeated locks-downs and have negatively impacted the retail industry. Cinemas, theatres and event locations are closed in many countries worldwide. The demand for 3D applications in these areas is expected to recover and could potentially increase after the pandemic. However, we may not see this happen in Central Europe before the end of 2021.

HP has positioned itself differently with its Jet Fusion technology, which was introduced in 2014. The first printers available on the market were designed for consumer goods and automotive R&D centres. Even today, most printers are more likely to be installed in engineering or at product designer’s offices. A few printers, for example Italian company Weerg, have since specialized in 3D printing and CNC milling for industrial customers. In addition to consulting about appropriate materials, they also offer assistance in creating and optimizing 3D printing data. There is still a lot of potential in the production of prototypes and spare parts, even for 3D printers with small footprints.
However, this industrial business is unlikely to have much in common with traditional printing. As a result, the price of the printers will take a back seat to the investment needed to update the business model and educate staff.
The emergence of COVID-19 offers an ideal opportunity for printers to realign their business to cater to future markets. This looks particularly promising as disruptive changes in the industry's supply chains are already in discussion. The pandemic could create new, highly lucrative and sustainable niches for specialized 3D printing printers, especially near industrial centres. An inexpensive 3D printer model could prove a good starting point for printers looking to gain experience and making their first new customer experiences.

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