3D printing and consumer electronics – interview
1. Do you consider the sector of household appliances/consumer electronics and related components a potential development ambit for the 3D printing?
Yes, absolutely, we have already several customers that are appreciating the potentialities of 3D printing both to speed up the product development process ( in some cases accelerating it by even 10 times) and to decrease the spending. In many cases, for instance, we produce some specimens that are identical to real ones and then we manufacture only those that arouse “public success”.
2. Do you think that additive technologies will find increasing applications in the production of household appliances and consumer electronics, in addition to rapid prototyping?
Yes, in ambits where the strong customization ad tailoring are essential. I think of unique objects, tailor-made (for endless-reasons) or customizable by users: producing such items with the conventional manufacturing would not be possible. Another interesting ambit in terms of production is the implementation, with the 3D printing, of moulds that afterwards can be used in the household appliance and consumer electronics industry.
Therefore, we do not create the product but instead the tool with which the product itself is then made (for instance with injection moulding). Besides, the 3D printing can be very useful in sector characterized by relatively small parts, with high added-value and customized. Otherwise in ambits where customers can customize the object, as it already happens, for instance, in the chandelier sector: the designer makes the product available, the customer customizes it via internet and successively the item in printed with 3D printers. The same thing, for instance, can occur with the portable phone cover.
3. What innovations might the additive manufacturing bring into the industry of household appliances/consumer electronics and related components? What materials can be used? What solutions do you propose to the manufacturers of household appliances/consumer electronics ad components?
The 3D printing allows making things that were too expensive in the past, significantly shortening the time-to-market. This technology grants more freedom to ideas because the designer can implement a bigger numbers of prototypes at sustainable costs, with particular and complex geometries, too. The advantage consists in being the first that release new products, relying on more possibilities of testing and experimenting.
In the past, for instance, creating a prototype containing electronics was expensive and, for this reason, not always projects were realized: nowadays, if the designer has an idea to introduce electronics into a part, he can print and test it with greater freedom. In term of innovations in 3D printing, in the next future it might be possible to print an electronic circuit integrated with the piece.
There are already filaments for 3D printing that are electrically conductive and printers able to print electronic circuits: the first step will be probably to print plastic (for instance the face cover of a washing machine) and the electronic circuit as well. Another great advantage of 3D printers in that these products are user-friendly, also because several ”barriers” have been knocked down.
Let us consider for instance the issue of supports. With the first machines, if we wanted to create an object with particular geometry, for instance a curved shape, it was necessary to use a piece support and then to remove it with appropriate instruments. Nowadays, supports are instead made of wax and then it is sufficient to melt the support to separate it from the printed product. Moreover, printing from digital files, there is not the limit of compulsorily manufacturing a minimum quantity of parts.
It is even possible to obtain several different items inside the same printing plate: there are various printers for different sizes, it is possible to arrive at one meter and a half. Besides, the 3D printing can be executed with a broad choice of materials, both plastics and metals (like steel, titanium, chromium, cobalt and aluminium), and we can attain different types of finishes.
The household appliance industry can find suitable 3D printing solutions for satisfying different requirements. If for instance a company that highly focuses on design intends to present visually the idea of a new product to potential customers at the exhibition, it can create in short times a prototype that has actually the same aesthetical characteristics shared by the finished product. To this end, wire printers are ideal. Besides these products, there are printers dedicated instead to the electronics world: they are solution assuring great precision.
We can consider for instance the need of making a very thin wire pass through a detail of a pair of centimeter, for instance: for this type of situation, it is possible to make use of printers that reach even the micron. Precisely thinking of the different requirements of the companies, 3DZ has developed a diversified offer on three main channels: from Desktop printers, to Professional ones (highly suitable for prototyping operation) and up to Production models, intended for big-size companies and characterized by large printing areas, extreme precision and speed.