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3D printers are now at a few signage expos (ISA and APPPEXPO) but noticeably missing from others (FESPA) Print E-mail

2014 has more focus on 3D printers than in any past year

3D Printing is still being seen as the newest technology in the printing industry. Their appearance is still relatively new in “printer expos” worldwide. Many of the brands of ten years ago have been bought by other brands, so now there are clear leaders in the field.

But at entry level, there are a lot of different Chinese brands coming into the market. The long range goal is for every home to have its own 3D machine just like we all have a microwave, a TV set, a coffee maker, a toaster, etc.

But most 3D printers are not really printers; they are laying down plastic

It helps to attend a 3D expo, such as RAPID, to see each of the technologies. Only a few technologies use actual printheads. And these jet glue, not ink. But they are still considered printers, albeit additive printers (additive manufacturing).

But for the moment let’s use the popular nomenclature, 3D printer, for all of them (but at least it is crucial to know the difference between printing and “laying down”). So let’s look at where you can see 3D printers at a signage expo (even though almost none of these 3D printers produces signage whatsoever!).

3D Printers at ISA

Desktop sized 3D printers were in several booths at ISA 2014, but these were more incidental than there being any organized focus on 3D printing.

3D images are definitely needed in signage, but you can create a more effective 3D image with having a Zund or Kongsberg cutter on printed (decorated) honeycomb sandwich board.

FLAAR has a separate web site on 3D scanning, which is often the first step to creating an object for 3D printing. You can see our comments from about five years of attending the special focused 3D expos, on our

3D rapid prototyper printer DTG Group 8751
Solidoodle 3D printer, at ISA 2014

3D Printers at APPPEXPO

So far there are more 3D printers at APPPEXPO in Shanghai than in any other signage expo in the world. FESPA Digital 2014 in Munich had close to zero (I hope there were a few somewhere, but I did not notice any).

All the “3D printers” at FESPA Digital 2014 were actually 3D sublimation machines, for sublimating onto coffee mugs.

Drupa seems to misunderstand 3D “printer” technology

It is interesting that Drupa is deciding to move over to feature 3D printing. Since offset and flexo printing is dying out, Drupa has to do something to survive (or they go the way of IPEX…).

This focus of Druap 2016 on 3D printers is great but misses the boat for the continuation of wide-format. What is important is industrial printers, wide-format, in-line, narrow-format. Inkjet is the future; 3D printers are a fad at present, not yet the immediate future.

3D printers are a tiny fraction of the world needs. Most print shops will not be investing in 3D printers for a while. Signage is primary WIDE-format and GRAND-format: not miniature two to six inch statues of Donald Duck made from a 3D rapid prototyper.

If all the wide-format inkjet printer exhibitors (printers, inks, media, laminators, etc) realize that Drupa is focusing on 3D, all the more incentive for exhibitors (and attendees) to skip Drupa 2016 and go instead to APPPEXPO (which is so many times larger than Drupa there is almost no comparison).

FLAAR has experience visiting 3D Printer Factories

We have been to one Chinese 3D printer factory and one non-Chinese major international brand 3D printer manufacturer’s factory. Plus we have worked with 3D printers while being a Visiting Research Professor and head of the digital technology facility at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (circa 2001-2005).

We have attended RAPID about four years; this is one of the leading expos for 3D printers, 3D scanners, and 3D imaging software. There are competing expos rising up, but since RAPID is plenty good enough, we have not attended any other 3D expo (other than SIGGRAPH, once).

But what is 3D printing?

Is the process of making something from 2D into 3D. This is achieved using an additive process where the object is created by laying down successive layers of material. It works easily and directly with a computer and a 2D model created in a 3D software, (usually works with almost every 3D software), and with that you can send it to the printer in the wanted size and proportions.

Rodin 3D UV LED Idea Tech booth IMG 0503
Rodin 3D printer (UV curable pastic), Spotted at the Idea tech booth, D-PES 2014

Their usage is very miscellaneous and it can go from making little and fast models, to actually manufacturing prototypes that can be used for serial printing to create real products in the market.

 It can print in different materials such as plastics, metals, nylons and many other materials, and depends on that, it influence on the price of it.

Winbo booth 3D IMG 5563
3D printed samples, WinBo's Booth, D-PES 2014

There are many advantages of 3D Printing. Some of them rely in eco-friendly effects, like the lower consumption of energy, the waste it produces can be reused, since some of the materials used in them, are already been think to be 100% re-usable. Their product usage is very diverse such as medicine, construction, science products, arts, manufacturing. It is changing the world as we know it.

Winbo booth 3D IMG 5564
More 3D printed samples at WinBo's Booth, D-PES 2014

This type of technology has been very useful in different areas, one of them could be on industrial design applications, because is a simple tool to make prototypes or models that are used to test new designs. It is also very useful in engineer pieces in the making of machines. And the quality of the printed piece can be so exact; it can be used to recreate machinery and also the 3D printer pieces itself.

Idea Tech booth 3D IMG 5971
3D printed Differential at Idea Tech's Booth, D-PES 2014

But most 3D printing is definitely not signage.

Even doming would be closer to signage than 3D printers. 3D printers produce models, machine part prototypes, prototypes in general (but at small scale).

If you want to create 3D signage, there are several ways:
Vacuum Thermo-forming (with wide-format inkjet)
Honeycomb sandwich material (with wide-format inkjet and a flatbed cutter)

Plus sculpting large blocks of solid material with drills!

we cover each on a separate page or in separate FLAAR Reports on honeycomb material.

First posted June 6, 2014



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