How would you 3D Print with Silicone?

Although Fripp Design and Research continue to be at the forefront of Industrial and Product design in the UK, we are getting a lot of interest in our method for 3D Printing silicone.

To be absolutely honest, we invented it to overcome an objection by some anaplastologists in our use of starch as the framework for 3D Printing soft tissue prostheses; it was a ‘we will show them’ moment!

So we have a technology that is looking for applications and markets. So if you think you might have an application for 3D Printing silicone, then please get in touch at innovate@frippdesign.co.uk.

Please remember the following:

1. If you think your idea might have potential IP, please make sure you sign a NDA with us first, we want to make sure you get the full value and reward for your idea (remember we have the technology and we need you to have the idea)
2. Our technology requires no support materials at all, so there is plenty of ‘design freedom’ scope for whatever idea you may come up with
3. Our technology is not yet fully developed, so please do not expect to become rich overnight, however what you would do is influence the development path of the technology from here

So, it is over to you. Thinking caps on. We are looking for serious applications where there is an identified market need where the volumes would justify our mutual efforts.

Fripp Design and Research join AIRTO – Press Release

Press Release – For Immediate Release

Fripp Design and Research join the Association of Independent Research and Technology Organisations; AIRTO

Fripp Design and Research are delighted to announce that the company has been accepted as a member of the Association of Independent Research and Technology Organisations (“AIRTO”).

“This is a tremendous accolade to be given to Fripp Design and Research” commented Tom Fripp, Managing Director at Fripp Design and Research “it recognises the focus our company has in developing innovative, research focused solutions to our clients problems”.

Fripp Design and Research has a track record in innovating new products and services for a broad range of clients, including many UK Universities. “It is one of our proudest achievements that many of the UK’s greatest research institutions come to us for help to research new and innovative ways of applying modern industrial design methods into commercial applications” continued Fripp.

Research and Technology Organisations, more commonly referred to as “RTOs”, provide an important bridge between academia and commercial business. Their focus is to help business exploit science and technology to gain a competitive advantage.

AIRTO brings together those ‘best in practice’ independent research organisations, to encourage and support greater adoption of science and technology within UK businesses. “In common with the many eminent organisations that make up AIRTO’s membership, Fripp Design and Research have a strong focus and ability to help businesses exploit science and technology for their commercial advantage, making innovation happen” added Dr Jane Gate, AIRTO’s Director of Operations “.

Already membership is bringing advantage to Fripp Design and Research “As a result of being recognised as an independent Research and Technology Organisation, Fripp Design and Research are now obtaining approval to join as suppliers to a number of publicly funded programs, this means our clients are able to take some of the risk out of their own research and development programs by working with us” concluded Fripp.

End

About AIRTO

AIRTO – The Association for Independent Research and Technology Organisations – is the foremost membership body for organisations operating in the UK’s intermediate research and technology sector. AIRTO’s members deliver vital innovation and knowledge transfer services which include applied and collaborative R&D, frequently in conjunction with universities, consultancy, technology validation and testing, incubation of commercialisation opportunities and early stage financing. AIRTO members have a combined turnover of over £4Bn from clients both at home and outside the UK, and employ over 40,000 scientists, technologists and engineers.

AIRTO members include commercial companies, Research and Technology Organisations, Research Associations and selected research and technology exploitation offices from universities, operating at the interface between academia and industry. Most of AIRTO’s members operate in the important space between pure research and the pull of the market for commoditisation of knowledge into new products and services.

AIRTO exists to assist its members to network and to engage collectively with government and policy makers in the UK’s R&D landscape on matters of mutual interest, including research policy, innovation strategy, encouraging enterprise and developing the commercial take up of scientific and technological advances. AIRTO works to influence and improve the strategy and climate for innovation for our Members by forging links and progressing dialogue with key decision makers in government and industry across technology intensive sectors. Our interests cover the activities of the Research Councils, the TSB, the European Commission and a number of UK Government Departments, as well as topics such as the use of public procurement to support innovation, challenge led research, skills provision, support schemes such as SBRI and those that deal with contract and collaborative R&D.

2014 – A Great Year for Industrial & Product Design

2013 was a great year for Fripp Design and Research, culminating in the announcement of our own new 3D Print technology Picsima.

Underpinning the development of our own intellectual property is our continued delivery of brief pushing industrial design for our clients. This is recognised through the 40% increase in revenue from December 2012 through to December 2013 and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone of our clients for their business and we wish them all a very prosperous 2014.

This growth has come, in spite of a very static UK economy; which only goes to show that business is investing in business ensuring future prosperity. Prosperity which is starting to appear through the ‘shoots of recovery’ being talked about by politicians and economic observers alike (particularly within the UK manufacturing sector which bodes well for design). Indeed 2014 is starting well for us with a healthy order book and pipeline of opportunities.

We’re all very excited about 2014, especially for what will become of Picsima; however our DNA is in industrial design and product design and this will never change. Shortly we will be launching our new website which will further enhance the extensive design capabilities we have at Fripp Design and Research.

So, to all our existing clients, prospects and clients we do not even yet have; we wish you all a very prosperous 2014.

Press Release – Picsima

Press Release – For Immediate Release

The next generation 3D Print Technology is coming

On the outskirts of Sheffield, located in a workshop on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, one of the pioneering companies in 3D Print technology are about to release the next generation of 3D Print technology.

Fripp Design and Research are recognised experts in the development of 3D Print applications where they have collaborated with organisations such as the Wellcome Trust, The University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University developing ground breaking solutions for the rapid manufacture of prostheses.

“Although 3D Print has been around for nearly thirty years, the increasing output in new applications is being driven by an ever increasing pool of industrial design talent and the software tools to allow that talent to flourish” stated Tom Fripp, Managing Director at Fripp Design and Research. Tom’s own Masters Degree was about developing custom casts for patients using 3D Print methodologies and the entire design team, at Fripp Design and Research, are all educated to the same level and all specialising in 3D Printing. “With this pool of talent available to us, research institutes such as the University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University rely on our expert knowledge rather than the other way round; which is the norm when SMEs engage with Universities”.

It was during the development of the soft tissue prostheses project that Tom and his team identified the need for Picsima, the next generation 3D Print technology currently under development “The soft tissue prostheses project we undertook with the University of Sheffield is a two part process using off the shelf technology. We create a prostheses scaffold using a standard colour 3D printer which we then infiltrate with medical grade silicone” explained Fripp, “Naturally, as Industrial Designers, we wanted to perfect a system to use as few stages as possible, so as to make it as commercially viable as possible, so we asked ourselves the question ‘could we print in silicone direct?’; as no such system was available we started on the journey to create the method for Picsima 3D Printing” said Fripp.

With a Technology Strategy Board High Value Manufacturing feasibility grant, the company set to work on working out how to 3D print silicone in full colour. “The grant was important as it allowed us to focus resource in solving the question posed on ourselves without distraction” continued Fripp.

Within a twelve week period, the company answered their own question and a UK patent application has been filed. “The method we’ve discovered has a certain simplicity to it which makes me proud of what the team has achieved” said Fripp. “The question is what do we do next?”

Like many SME companies, Fripp Design and Research have to manage their resources carefully “I am very proud of what Tom and the team have achieved” interjected Steve Roberts, co-founder and majority shareholder at Fripp Design and Research “Tom and I set the company up to invest our resources to develop our own IP for either license or sale” added Roberts, “This is still our preferred model, however the idea of becoming the next big manufacturer in 3D Printing also has its appeal”.

So the company has some interesting choices to make “Do we sell it, licence it or make it?” Roberts stated. Whichever route the company chooses to take, Picsima will have an impact on the world of 3D Printing. The technology behind Picsima means full colour functional prototypes could be made. Shore hardnesses of less than 25 are already been achieved, with their test rig, and the ability to use such a wide range of materials means they can create parts capable of withstanding temperatures as low as minus 60 and greater that 200.

“It feels a little bit like how HP started when they developed their first precision audio oscillator from their garage in Palo Alto, the question is how do we best take Picsima from the workshop, to market?” concluded Fripp.

Whichever route they choose, Picsima will be a landmark development in 3D Print technology.

About Fripp Design and Research

Sheffield based Fripp Design and Research specialise in Product Design, Concept Design, Industrial Design and Rapid Prototyping. The design team are Masters Graduates in their specialist subjects. The company use Solidworks, Rhino, Bunkspeed Hypershot, Magics and Mimics software and own a number of rapid prototyping machines.

The customer base is broad; from blue chip companies, to UK leading universities, to individual inventors and entrepreneurs. The company were involved in the design of the Comic Relief ‘Honkus’ Red Nose and have appeared on Channel5’s, the Gadget Show. Clients also include; Fellowes, Rolls Royce, Proware Kitchen, Sagentia Group, Nestlé and The Wellcome Trust.

In addition to client work, Fripp Design and Research are involved in a number of in house product developments ranging from DIY to healthcare.

The company’s contact details are:

Fripp Design Limited
The AMP Technology Centre
Brunel Way
Sheffield
S60 5WG

www.frippdesign.co.uk

T: 0114 254 1244

Press contact:

Steve Roberts
steve@frippdesign.co.uk
Picsima 3D Printer

Why We Do Not Offer Internships

The world of graduate employment has changed. 25 years ago less than 5% of 18 year olds went to University and many students had their fees and living costs paid for by the tax payer.
When our co-founder, Steve Roberts, graduated in 1985, there were more graduate jobs than graduates and he had the pick of the jobs and career he wanted to pursue. Sadly, the situation is now completely different.

Although we applaud the notion of creating a well educated workforce, it has had some unforeseen consequences, particularly for graduates. Today there are more graduates, than graduate jobs; resulting in graduates prepared to enter the world of work at much lower salaries than graduates would have been prepared to take 25 years ago. This has created a whole new ‘job market’ ‘branded’ as Internships.
We understand why a Graduate would be prepared to work for a low salary (or in some cases for no salary at all), but we cannot support such work activity for a number of reasons:

1. We would never want to be perceived as an employer who is taking advantage of an unforeseen situation for a young person
2. An Intern is looking for an opportunity to gain work experience to help them find more gainful employment. This requires significant intervention by us, as an employer. This means diverting valuable resources which we believe would have a negative impact on our ability to delight our clients; and it is our clients that are most important to us. So there would be an ‘opportunity cost’ to us as well
3. Our mission in life is to delight our clients. A primary part of this is the professional team we have built. Our clients love our work because we have designers who are top of their game. It would be inconceivable of us to put an Intern on client work; and at the end of the day, our reason for existing is to do client work

For some organisations, Internships would make sense. But in a business, whose primary assets are its people; Internships would be a risky distraction. Without being too political, we are encouraged to see that young people are starting to look at alternatives to University and we think this is desirable for the UK economy.

We Are A Design House First – Honest

Our recent posts have very much focused on the commercial challenges in the use of 3D Printing technologies and our genuine concerns about the inflated expectations of 3D Printing, from Investors to Consumers alike.

Although it might appear that we are business analysts, we’re not. We are designers (well most of us are; Steve is not – he’s the business guy in the team so it should not be any surprise that our most recent blogs have been written by him) however we would always argue that design, and the tools of design, are integral parts of business and should never be viewed as ‘bolt on’ cost. Design is an investment whose sole purpose is to provide clients with a commercial return on their investment, where the term commercial return can be viewed in the broadest of terms (from increased sales, through to more competitive branding/marketing).

This is best exemplified by Apple who, under Steve Jobs’ guidance (second time around), went back to its design routes and developed Apple into the corporation it is today (despite the fact that its P/E is a fifth of the P/E of current 3d Print stock…but this will realign in the fullness of time). Similarly, the likes of Dyson, Sony, almost all of the automotive brands (in particular we have been impressed with the direction that Jaguar have taken over the last few years) and many of the large electronics manufacturers like Samsung as well as online platforms like Facebook, Kickstarter and Twitter that focus heavily on the integration of design and user experience through to the core of their business. More local to home we have noticed brands like Richardson, GHD and Joseph Joseph which have all become businesses that thrive on the use of good design and are businesses that we admire for it.

So please take the opportunity to read our blog history. It interweaves between the commercial and technical influences on design, of which there is no doubt, 3D CAD, Printing and scanning will continue to be important integral tools needed by design companies to deliver exceptional value to customers.

Sony/Microsoft/Apple – You Must Be baffled, We Certainly Are!

Following on from our last blog, we thought we’d comment on the current ‘investment bubble’ that is occurring in 3D Print and why, if you are thinking of investing in 3D Print stock, invest cautiously.

Below is a list of a variety of corporations who’s target market is a youngish, early adopter consumer. We say this because they are the type of consumer who will have a PS3/X-Box and will want the next generation machines, as quickly as they can get their hands on them. A consumer who wants the technology to do all the hard stuff so they can enjoy their play, getting that sense of well being when they have cracked a particular level and/or task. A consumer who does not have to worry about how to get content, whether they have the rights to use that content (as the licensing has been sorted out by the vendor) and definitely get really upset if the technology lets them down during their play time (i.e. users that get high utilisation from their purchases). We believe this is a description for such a user for the potential consumer market for 3D Printing too:

Stratasys Price Earnings Ratio of 181
3D Systems Price Earnings Ratio of 109
Sony Corp Price Earnings Ratio of 25
Microsoft Price Earnings Ratio of 12
Apple Price Earnings Ratio of 12

We do not understand how Stratasys and 3D Systems P/E is a magnitude greater than the three leading technology consumer vendors on the planet. Here are the reasons why:

Content is King
It has been a long established strategy that a technology platform is useless without content. All three, established, vendors (Sony/Microsoft/Apple) have aggressive strategies in owning the media for their platforms. Indeed, for the next generation machines, all three are starting to sign deals where their platform has the exclusive rights to popular content. So, whoever owns the content has a strategic advantage.

In addition, there has been an entire new gaming development market created to support sales of the technology, a market which is much bigger than the entire 3D Print market. The enormity of this market is fueling even greater innovation which, in turn is growing the market even further and faster.

For Stratasys and 3D Systems, they own very little content (in fact we are not sure they own any at all). This is a real issue for them because any user who 3D Prints content owned by a third party is liable to be sued. This will certainly slow down consumer demand for 3D Printing.

The Crowd
Both the established vendors and game developers understand the importance of crowd game playing. Interacting with others is a key part of the experience and to interact with others, you have to have a common platform for you to share your experiences.

But 3D Printing is all about creating a custom part. Although there might be opportunities to collaborate in a design, this is not the same as interacting on a gaming machine.

Keep it Simple, Stupid
All three established vendors understand that a technology consumer product needs to ‘plug and play’. Users want to get utility out of their purchase as quickly as possible.

You cannot achieve the same with 3D Printing. It requires users to learn how to get utility out of their printer, we believe this will seriously damage consumer acceptance of the technology.

Utility
With the three established vendors there is a ‘wow factor’ in game play which is maintained throughout the entire gaming process.

This cannot be said about 3D Printing. Certainly there is a wow factor when the print is completed, but this quickly fades away i.e. there is very low utility in a 3D Printer compared to a gaming machine.

Conclusion
Our big assumption, here, is that both Stratasys and 3D Systems have a strategy to develop a consumer offer in 3D Printing. We also assume that the unbelievably high P/E ratios are a reflection of investor sentiment in the potential for 3D Printing in consumer markets too.

However, if this is a key strategy of both corporations (and the evidence would support this) we believe that these sentiments are fundamentally flawed and do not justify such high P/Es. Certainly, as we have said before, there will be early adopters of 3D Printing but we do not see consumer demand ever reaching the heights of gaming. If the world’s largest and most successful consumer technology corporations have P/Es less than 25, where is the justification in valuing 3D Systems and Stratasys stock so high?

Stratasys Makerbot Merger – A Deal Too Far?

Now that the Stratasys Makerbot merger has happened, we feel comfortable to express our opinion on the deal and the likely affect it will have on the 3D Print Market.

Although we are not financial analysts (and you should not take anything we say in this blog as financial advice in making decisions to invest in 3D Print stock), we do have a good understanding of the 3D Print landscape.

When Stratasys and Objet merged, we could see the absolute sense in this; Objet have some fantastic technology which compliments the markets Stratasys operate in (and visa versa) so:

– The cross selling opportunities are significant
– The opportunity to take out manufacturing costs are significant
– The opportunity to add to the bottom line by taking out duplication is significant
– The merger owns significant IP which it can potentially exploit in the future
– A 3D Systems/Objet merger would have created a significant threat to Stratasys shareholder value…a full colour affordable Objet Connex is the 3D Print panacea

And then Stratasys announced the merger with Makerbot, issuing $403M of new shares. This is the one that has left us a little puzzled.

As we have already mentioned in many tweets (@frippdesign), we do not understand why anyone would pay this amount of money for a company that:

– Operates in an early adopter market, where the user base is still the hobbyist and there are no indicators that the technology will go mainstream yet
– Where there is little/no IP in the technology operated by Makerbot
– Where there are many competitors all chasing the early adopters
– Where there is well established competition for Thingiverse
– Where the other major player already has a well established competitive offer
– Where there is potential litigation over copyright and IP infringements in what is being printed already

Applying normal rational business tools, this just does not seem to make sense to us. But this is not a rational market. Looking at Stratasys share price today (20th August 2013), the Price/Earnings ratio is a whopping 181. Now compare this to IBM; their P/E is 13 and Microsoft’s is 12. Even Sony’s P/E is 24 times earnings…and they and Microsoft are about to launch their new global gaming platforms and all three companies have revenues greater than many countries GDP! So how does a P/E of 181 make sense for a 3D Print company?

Currently 3D Print is in a ‘dot com’ investment bubble. Traders are seeing opportunities to make short term gains around all the hype there is about 3D Printing; which is driving up share prices. But, as with ‘dot com’, this investment bubble will, eventually, burst. Where will that leave shareholder value when this happens?

Some observers see the acquisition of Makerbot as a way of Stratasys extending their market reach from consumer to professional prototypers. But this assumes that there will be massive pent up consumer demand for 3D Print. For us, right now, the jury is out on this. There is a huge difference between a consumer and a hobbyist/early adopter. A hobbyist/early adopter will dedicate their own time and resources to achieve an output they want. Whereas a consumer will want it to be simple and quick to 3D Print something. But what are they going to print? Lots of ‘white’ egg cups, razors, light fittings and the like? We do not think so. Think 2D Print. Consumers print stuff that they have created (text, photos, 2D Paint etc) so it would be natural to think they will want to 3D Print things they create. But to do this requires years of training in being able to visualise and create 3D objects. Our design team have spent years learning their art…this is something you cannot teach the average consumer when they buy their 3D Printer. The best the average consumer will be able to create is ‘two and a half D’ i.e. create the most complex shape in the x-y plane and then project it into the z plane (this is amplified by the problems of creating undercuts with certain 3D print processes i.e. the best you will ever achieve is a ‘two and a half D’ object).

Although Stratasys has IP which has the potential to make better resolution FDM models, that same IP has the potential to benefit all FDM print manufacturers. So here are the two things we would have done if we were running Stratasys:

– We would have licensed our IP to all FDM vendors to help them improve the resolution and quality of 3D Printed models. Let those vendors take the market risk in proving there is real consumer demand, making profit from the growth in the licensing revenue of the IP
– We would have raised money to invest in creating what the current market wants, an affordable, full colour Objet Connex 3D Printer; and do Stratasys need to raise revenue to achieve this anyway?

We think merging with Makerbot was either impatient management or a management that needed headlines to maintain the hugely inflated share price of their stock (which they are duty bound to do to maintain shareholder value). Either way, we think this is a massive risk to Stratasys shareholders. If we were Makerbot shareholders, we would want to know when we would be free to sell our stock (and their investors should be extremely happy too).

So what happens when investors see 3D Print stock as a bear, rather than bull investment? We have real concerns that this will set back the 3D Print industry back many years. There are a number of exciting new 3D Print technologies that will require investment to get their product to market (we know, we have one in development ourselves); what will investor sentiment be when the bubble bursts?

And when the bubble bursts, what will happen to the major players’ ability to raise funds to support their cash flow needs? How will they be able to continue to support their own R&D investments?

We sincerely want the likes of 3D Systems, Stratasys, MCOR and the like to succeed because our own business will benefit. But with P/E ratios 7 times those of established consumer brands, like Sony (whose own P/E is already high) we have our doubts.

Myth 4 – 3D Printing is cheap!

Following on from our last Blog, putting to bed some of the more exaggerated claims about the potential with 3D Printing, we wanted to take this opportunity to put to bed some of the myths around price.

For those who follow us on Twitter (@frippdesign), you will see we, recently, engaged in an interesting discussion with a major vendor of full colour 3D Printing on the costs of 3D Printing. The claim made was that their technology could make a part for only $5, which we accept is true. But what they are, potentially, implying is ‘look how cheap it is to 3D Print full colour’. This is a piece of ‘marketing speech’ that many vendors put out about 3D Printing…if only it was true!

The very same Vendor, making this claim, eventually conceded that their 3D Printer costs $47,000, however they did state that their Total Ownership Cost (TOC) is lower than comparative technologies and, in this respect, there is some truth in what they say. However it is still a long way from being able to make a claim that it costs only $5 to 3D Print a part.

So let’s look into what the likely TOC is and the implications in buying a 3D Printer using the above as an example. The key factors to take into consideration are:

1. Depreciation
When buying capital equipment, financiers will normally depreciate the asset over a 5 year period. This represents depreciation of $9,400/annum on a piece of capital equipment costing $47,000.

2. Running Costs
As a company that operates three 3D Printers ourselves, 3D Printers do consume consumables (by this we mean things like Print Heads; not the materials used for Printing the model). It is difficult for us to assign a cost to this, but we will be generous and say the Printer consumes $200 of consumables per annum (note, for Laser based sintering machines, the ‘print head’ is a laser, replacing these runs into $1,000s but the 3D Printers do cost $100,000s to buy…and to be fair to these vendors we have not, yet, seen them claim you can 3D Print a model in metal for $5!)

3. Operating Costs
To run such a machine requires an operator. Accepting that operating a 3D Printer is not an intensive task, there is still a cost. We would assume that an operator is likely to be a 3D designer and the designer might spend 5% of their working week operating/monitoring the printer. Assuming a salary of $40,000, this represents an annual cost of $2,000. This does not include any costs incurred in fixing the 3D Print file to make it compatible with the 3D Print technology to be used, but we are assuming this would be absorbed in the 5% of designer time required to operate the printer.

4. Other Associated Costs
Although your designer would make the 3D Print file compatible with the 3D Printer, the designer will still need a PC and software to make any changes. For simplicity, we assume a cost of $1000 per annum to achieve this.

Total Cost Of Ownership
So taking the four costs together, then the annual ‘fixed’ costs of operating such a 3D Printer is in the order of $12,600.

In the Vendors claim, we have to assume that the $5 is the material cost for making the part.

So, to make 100 parts per annum, the actual cost/per part is $131 (12,600 divided by 100 plus 5)

To make 1000 parts per annum, the actual cost/per part is $17.60 (12,600 divided by 1000 plus 5)

To make 10,000 parts per annum, the actual cost/per part is $6.26 (12,600 divided by 10,000 plus 5), the reality is it would be higher as the 3D Printer will consume more consumables and might need maintenance because of the very high usage. However, for the purpose of this Blog, we will assume the machine can handle this level of use, maintenance free.

So, as with injection moulding, there comes a ‘tipping point’ where an investment of $47,000 in a 3D Printer looks viable (as does the investment in tooling makes sense for injection moulding)…but then you have to factor in another very important variable; the TIME it takes to make the part.

Let’s be generous that is takes an hour to print the part. At 10,000 units, this represents 10,000 hours or 417 days of continuous use (operating 24x7x365 days) i.e. making 10,000 parts per annum is very unlikely on a 3D Printer (in fact we know of no 3D Printer making $5 parts at this volume…we’d be very happy to be corrected on this though).

Even at 1000 parts, this works out at 125 working days (assuming a ‘single shift’ 8 hour day). This represents almost 6 months of a working year; again a very high utilisation of the 3D Printer. From our experience, 3D Printers operate in the 100-1000 prints per annum range, so the actual cost of ownership, of making a $5 part, is in the region of $131-$17.60 per 3D Print.

Even at this level, the costs still look attractive. The investment decision, as with any investment decision, has to be “Is there market capacity to be able to make a financial return on the investment (bearing in mind a bureau will need to add a profit margin to this cost)? Can we get the utilisation of the 3D Printer to justify the costs?”.

Although this Blog has been written in response to recent Twitter traffic, the principle applies to any 3D Print technology you are considering investing in.

Even at the entry level FDM 3D Printer level, you need to think about the Total Ownership Cost. We did buy an entry level FDM Printer and quickly rejected it because of the inherent low resolution and quality you get from a FDM machine costing a few $100. A great hobbyist product…but not something you would consider for making professional standard models (bear in mind you can get very high resolution FDM machines, but they cost significantly more than $47,000 to buy).

We are great advocates of 3D Print. In 2005, our co-founder, Tom Fripp, did his Masters in developing a method for manufacturing custom medical casts for his Masters. But when vendors over hype their capability, it impacts on our ability to sell our services.

We operate at the sharp end of 3D Printing and it is our job to set customer expectations at the correct level. 3D Printing offers many benefits, but lets make them realistic…please?

Note: The figures quoted in this Blog are for reference purposes only. The actual TOC will vary dependent upon the circumstances you will operate your 3D Printer. The figures quoted are theoretical and are provided to contextualise this Blog.

Don’t Believe The (3D Print) Hype

For the past 8 years, Fripp Design and Research have been actively involved in the development of 3D Print technology. Indeed, our co-founder, Tom Fripp’s Masters Degree was all about designing custom wound supports using 3D Printers. We also own and operate a number of 3D Printers and we own Intellectual Property in the application of 3D Print in the rapid manufacture of prostheses too.

3D Print is getting much attention in the press and media at the moment and investors are valuing 3D Print related stock very highly too. This bodes well for our industry, however we want to apply some caution to all the hype and put to bed three ‘myths’ about 3D Printing.

Myth 1 – With 3D Printing you have an infinite degree of design freedom

If only this was true. It is fair to say that 3D Printing offers many more opportunities to create complexity where traditional tooling/moulding cannot compete; however infinity is a very big number! The reality is that you are still constrained by the types of material, the method used for fusing the powder (either sintered or binded) and the biggest one of them all; Gravity!

And with ‘design freedom’ comes expertise. Our design team have spent all their adult life living and breathing the world of 3D Design. It would be unrealistic (even with some of the great software tools now available) to expect the average consumer to be able to understand, exploit and enjoy such design freedoms; especially when you factor in that a professional designer understands the inherent constraints in the materials and technologies applicable to 3D Printing.

Myth 2 – 3D Printing will replace Traditionally Manufactured Products

This is probably the most over hyped and mythical claim of all. A manufactured product is not, simply, about the making of a product; the whole process is much more complicated than this. As a design agency we know. Designing a product for manufacture involves a multitude of stages (all of which we explain on our website so we won’t repeat them here!). Add into this the need to operate within a Quality Manufacturing System, testing the products safety to extremes and the need to market, promote and distribute the product, the ‘actual’ cost of delivering a product to market is much higher than simply making it. Plus within a manufacturing process, economy of scales and the use of constant quality controlled components means consumers know that, wherever they buy the product, they know the quality will be the same.

Another major concern is the variability of operating 3D Printers. From experience, we have learnt how to ‘fine tune’ our 3D Printers to make sure the prototypes we create are of the highest consistent quality that can be achieved. This has come from the experience our design team has gained in using 3D Printers day in day out. This experience you will not find in an operating manual and would not be understood if you are not trained as a professional designer.

The other subject that is bought up is cost, the belief is it is cheaper to make a product on a 3D Printer. Clearly, if a manufacturer had to customise every product for every customer, then costs would be so high, that nobody would buy them (which is the primary reason for products being the same); so for a ‘one off’ cosmetic model, there might be a cost benefit of using a 3D Printer ( we say ‘might be’ because, don;t forget you have the capital cost of buying the printer as well as the consumables to but too. If you only make one model, then your costs are going to be in the £100s…so ‘economy of scale is a 3d Print issue too).

Myth 3 – 3D Printing will allow you to reverse engineer spare parts

This is one that worries us most. For cosmetic spare parts, we see no issue (other than Intellectual Property infringement – see below). But for functioning spare parts, we have great concerns. A functioning spare part will have been designed to meet the rigors of the environment it is designed for. It will be stressed tested, thermal tested and shock tested to make sure it is safe for a consumer to use in the environment it was designed for. If you print a spare part, on a 3D Printer, you have no idea about the parts functional qualities in the working environment you want to use it in.

Although you could print a car spring on a SLM machine, there is no way we could recommend you actually fit and use it.

There is also the issue of design. A part designed to be injection moulding utilises the strength properties of the plastic being moulded. As the material type you would use, in a 3D Printer, is very different, it often requires internal ribbings to add the necessary strength to make the part work, as a prototype.

So simply ‘copying’ the existing design will, in most cases, create a part that will look the same, but will be, functionally, weaker; but unless you are a professional designer, you will not be aware of this (but you are now!).

A similar issue is wall thicknesses; from our experience, a 3D Printed wall is always thicker than its injection moulded counter part. You also need to take into account that the finish quality of the material is more often than not, rougher too. This requires post processing of the part; which adds both time and the potential for creating more structural weakness too.

Another key consideration is the legality of printing the part. It will be highly likely that the part you want to print is protected by patent. By ‘copying’ the part, you could be sued by the owner of the IP (Update…these two, related, article were posted on the 14th August so we’ve added them for referencing purposes http://t.co/p1Kv0zOmLh and http://bit.ly/13zdyr8.)

Conclusion

This, brief, article may appear to be a little negative, but we think it is important to set the record straight about the myths. 3D Printing is very important to us, it is a key tool in our commercial offer and fulfills a vital role in delivering value to our customers. But expectations on what can be delivered, using a 3D Printer, need to be set realistic. 3D Printing is still, today, primarily about making prototypes, please don’t believe the hype.

However we are keen to see (and support) the developments being made in the use of 3D Printers to make custom medical devices for patients. This is an area we are actively involved in where we have developed ways of rapid manufacturing cosmetic prostheses. However the world of 3D Printing is still some way from delivering custom functional medical devices (such as orthopaedic implants); but it is an area we actively support and work in.

About the author

Steve Roberts is co-founder of Fripp Design and Research, with Tom Fripp. Although not a designer himself, Steve has spent the past decade immersed in design and has the experience (some would say age) to understand the commercial opportunities for 3D Printing.