3d printers

Additives manufacturer supplements its Smart Factory services with 3D printers

Footwear manufacturers were among the first to adopt LuxCreo’s Smart Factory concept. Images: LuxCreo

Building on recent launches of its industrial-grade, cloud-connected DLP (digital light processing) and LCD 3D printers and high-performance resins, LuxCreo Inc. hopes to transform manufacturing. The company, with locations in Belmont, Calif., and Beijing, seems well placed to do just that.

Chief Operating Officer and President of the North American Office, Mike Yang, said LuxCreo was founded as a “production-focused” company with a stated mission to “accelerate the global transition to sustainable manufacturing.” thanks to 3D printing.

“We started in 2016 as an R&D company, demonstrating the ultra-low adhesive force and fast print speed of our LEAP nanotechnology [light enabled additive production] technology,” Yang explained. “One of the biggest challenges in bottom-up DLP additive manufacturing is that resins stick to both the build platform and the film as they solidify into a layer, which limits the speed and quality of impression.”

To overcome this problem, some companies use techniques such as creating a dead zone or using low-tack films that allow the layer-by-layer DLP printing process to occur, Yang said. But the LEAP technology harnesses a nanostructure that reduces the film’s cling force so the layers don’t stick to the tank, similar to a non-stick pan. The low adhesion, combined with the heat, allows the printing of many resins, such as high viscosity elastomers, tough resins and some dental materials, which could not be used before.

“We have the highest performing elastic resins for sportswear, medical and industrial applications that many standard printers cannot print efficiently,” Yang said.

Focus on production

Once LuxCreo solved the sticking problem, it started building its line of LEAP-based DLP and LCD printers. Instead of selling the printers, however, the company first launched a highly digitized and automated 3D printing smart factory in China. The parts production service department has worked with a number of well-known consumer brands.

“It was the fastest way to bring our partners to market, improve our technology offering and help them learn how to go into production with us,” said LuxCreo chief revenue officer Michael Strohecker.

Being a production-focused 3D printing solution provider sets LuxCreo apart from most 3D printing companies, Strohecker said. Additive manufacturing service providers typically start as prototyping shops and then move into production with, at best, “limited success.”

According to Strohecker, production first means that every engagement, from day one, is focused on successful volume production. “The technologies we’ve developed and the synergy between them enable a true end-to-end production workflow,” he said.

For LuxCreo, this workflow means complete vertical integration: the resins for each application, the software that cuts the CAD model and defines the print parameters, cloud-connected printers and post-processing.

Digital manufacturing

Direct printing of dental appliances saves 90% on labor and materials.

Secure connection

In line with its production-focused vision, LuxCreo developed its Smart Factory concept to avoid the disconnect that occurs when a manufacturer perfects a new design on a single 3D printer in a lab and then struggles to scale to production volume. .

“You have two options: you can buy more printers, which means a significant capital investment,” Strohecker said, or, alternatively, “you can go to a service office and hope they have the materials and printers that work with your design.”

To address this disconnect, LuxCreo launched the cloud-connected 3D printer. “Once you have proven and validated a print design using our resins, software, and one of our cloud-connected 3D printers, you can place an order with our cloud-connected Smart Factory. cloud, replicating your success and instantly scaling to our capacity,” Strohecker mentioned.

LuxCreo developed its first Smart Factory partnerships by working with major shoe manufacturers. In the shoe industry, tooling costs are a major concern, especially when producing shoes in low to medium volumes.

There is full tooling for each new model, from size 6 to size 15, with half-size increments, Strohecker explained. “When you can eliminate tooling, you don’t need to order minimum quantities of a single design, and that’s where additive manufacturing can transform production.”

The next market the company tackled was dental appliances. Manufacturing these devices has traditionally been a long process involving many manual steps and a lot of skilled labor. The typical approach when producing tooth aligners, retainers and other dental appliances is to create an intermediate tool – a dental model – and then thermoform the final appliance.

Instead of thermoforming followed by an additional 15 or 20 minutes of cutting, grinding, buffing and polishing, with LuxCreo’s dental solution “you just print, remove support structures, polish for less one minute, and it’s ready to go”. Strohecker said. “Direct printing can reduce labor and material costs by 90 percent.”

After a few years of using industrial 3D printers of its own design to build production parts for customers in its California lab and factory in China, the company felt ready to launch a commercial version of its industrial machine, Lux, during additive manufacturing Formnext 2020. Show. (Note: The show was virtual due to COVID-19.) Then, at the Additive Manufacturing User Group Conference last May, the company launched its iLux desktop printers.

“We expected to be able to deliver a market-leading, production-grade product,” Strohecker said. “Our desktop and industrial printers are designed to operate 24/7 and use our resins.”

Factory sale

The next phase of LuxCreo’s business plan is to sell its Smart Factory as a product.

Smart Manufacturing

The DLP-style industrial 3D printer originally developed by LuxCreo for its Smart Factory is now commercially available.

“To create our production-focused solutions, we started with our Smart Factory service. Then we started offering our cloud-connected printers where customers could control innovation and scale through our cloud-connected Smart Factory to achieve initial scale and market success,” said Strohecker.

The latest development is that the company is now offering its Smart Factory to contract manufacturers. This allows 3D printing to be done where the assembly takes place, anywhere in the world, Strohecker said. “So instead of just selling 3D printers, we will be selling a complete solution for turnkey production.”

And that seems like a pretty smart way to go.