3D Printing for Innovation

On the 20th of November Stratasys Strategic Consulting (SSC) was invited to participate at a Business Innovation Summit jointly organised by HSBC and KPMG at their Canary Wharf headquarters. The event was intended to foster a discussion on innovation in business, its opportunities and also its pitfalls. A highlight video of the event can be seen on the HSBC innovation website.

The bulk of the event was a series of panel sessions where various topics on the innovation horizon such as big data, peer to peer concepts and how vast lumbering corporations can end up squashing their own attempts at innovation were debated. The whole thing being expertly chaired by broadcaster Andrew Neil, which made for some very entertaining exchanges.

summit

 

In the evening a drinks reception was held where SSC exhibited alongside a host of other innovative tech companies from small start-ups such as Automata and Localz to giants such as Google, Amazon and Spotify.

 

SSC aims to provide expert knowledge of 3D Printing and the Additive Manufacturing industry to enable its clients first understand the technology and then develop a strategic roadmap for its integration into their business. We still find many people have never even seen a 3D printer or still don’t quite understand just how you can go from a 3D model on the screen to a tangible object. So as well as a wide variety of case studies and sample parts we decided to bring an Objet30 Polyjet 3D printer with us. This created a great deal of interest with no end of people peering over the top of the machine to get a better view inside of how it worked.

 

In particular it was great to see companies such as Automata taking full advantage of 3D printing in their innovation. Automata provides lightweight, low cost & easy to use robotic arms which are suitable for industrial applications. But instead of buying an off the shelf robot from them they contract out their robots to you. You rent the robot from Automata on a service agreement, in return they also provide you with a maintenance service and a brand new replacement once the robot reaches the hourly cap on its service life.

 

 

This rather interesting business model is in part made possible by their heavy adoption of 3D printing. Automata told us it is cheaper and quicker for them to replace a broken down or end of life robot with a brand new one than it is to try and repair individual components.

 

This gives them a lot of flexibility to customise the robots and the opportunity to produce complex parts with a much lower level of investment than traditionally required. Especially since they’re able to use fuse deposition modelling to print their robots rather than as you might expect power based laser sintering techniques. It was great to hear about how they’re able to benefit from the relatively low level of capital investment FDM offers but still overcome some of its short comings. For example Automata told us about how they’ve even managed incorporate the bearing races directly into the structure of the robot. 3D printed bearings aren’t particularly new but they are often very poor quality, automata overcomes this by printing the inner and outer races to the required tolerances then inserting the traditionally manufactured ball bearings in between the assembled races through a sealable hole in the chase. This coupled with herringbone gearing designed to plastically mesh together enables them to produce a low backlash drive train even though it’s printed using FDM. Finally to top it all off despite being a relatively new company because the vast majority of their product is printed they’ve already been able to produce 9 prototypes.

 

Additive Manufacturing certainly isn’t a one size fits all solution and we’re not going to argue that you cannot be innovative without it, but it certainly helps.