3d printers

From the country’s first 3D printers to an industry in its own right: Bart Kooijmans has seen every step in the development of additive manufacturing

Build a product layer by layer from the computer. In the late 1990s, 3D printing still sounded like science fiction; it’s mainstream technology now, says Bart Kooijmans, program manager for Precision Technologies at Microcentrum. “It shows up in industrial finished products and more and more people have a 3D printer at home.”

Kooijmans was one of the pioneers in introducing 3D technology to the industry. As a Rapid Prototyping researcher at TNO Industry and Techniek, he was allowed to buy the world’s first 3D printers in the late 1990s to explore what technology could bring to Dutch industry. “We have already recognized that this would be disruptive technology,” he says.

The art of printing

“Before the days of 3D printing, you started with a piece of material, like steel or plastic. Around that, you then ground everything and ended up with what you wanted. Something was already there. Or you injected material into a mold cavity, for mass production. With 3D printing, there is still nothing. It is a completely reversed process, with less waste and more freedom of shape. You can make all kinds of shapes out of it that you can’t create with drilling and milling. It’s a technique that doesn’t require any other tools either.

Kooijmans recalls giving talks on 3D printing with colleagues from Eindhoven University of Technology. At the time, students could still choose this as a subject, explains Kooijmans. At the time, Kooijmans was “a bit mocked” when he made the analogy with the printing press. “You wrote a book first, with a pen. The art of printing meant you could multiply that by thousands. Then, with a printer, we could redo unique unique pieces. Later still, it was quite normal to have such a printer at home. We’ve painted a picture of how 3D printing works. People used to laugh at me, but twenty years later you buy a 3D printer from the toy store for your kid.

Shorter design time

At TNO, Kooijmans and his colleagues brought the first printers to the Netherlands. As the Stratasys machine of America, the Kira 3D printer of Japan, and the Actua wax printer. An increasingly broad spectrum of technologies and materials has emerged. From the Rapid Prototyping demonstration department set up especially for this purpose, the applicability to Dutch industry was tested.

“We discussed with a company how they could benefit from this,” says Kooijmans. “What was lacking at the time was demand. Nobody knew this technique yet. A competitive advantage turned out to be the shorter design time. “In no time, you could hold the first prototype.”

In ten years, the initiatives have turned into European-funded projects on which research institutes from several countries have worked together. “That’s how we explored the full scope,” he says.

A tremendous momentum

We did it in the open industrial realm, says Kooijmans, “But it also happened as the ‘best kept secret’ behind the closed doors of major stakeholders such as automotive, aerospace and OEMs. , who saw it as an opportunity to make major strides in their competitive edge.

Developments within 3D printing have taken off considerably, continues Kooijmans. “With stimulus money, regions and international institutes have established themselves as centers of development.” As an example, Kooijmans mentions the Brainport areawith its own gathering place for the entire chain at Brainport Industrial Campus (BIC). “But there are also development centers in Twente, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. And in Belgium, Flam3D is a leading umbrella initiative.

The industry has fully developed 3D printing into a production technology with which you can manufacture high-quality products, according to Kooijmans. For the high-tech manufacturing industry, 3D printing with metal offers yet another completely new area of ​​application. “As well as printing with high-tech plastics or biomaterials does,” adds Kooijmans. “We are no longer talking about 3D printing, but about real additive manufacturing of finished products. It also involves a lot of certification. You need to be able to make a product that you can safely screw onto an airplane. Or take a technical ceramic tooth: you can’t just put that in your mouth.

Remote maintenance

Nowadays there is also a problem like Model-Based Definition: how do you work with a 3D file from the computer? “This is separate from 3D printing and actually applies to all manufacturing technologies. Previously, with a 2D drawing, you also described how smooth the surface should be and what color it should get. you this information in a digital file so that the whole production chain of suppliers, customers and internal employees is on the same wavelength? »

Virtual reality goes even further, continues Kooijmans. “This technology is also improving and becoming more applicable. Then you don’t even have to produce a 3D prototype anymore, just put on a pair of VR glasses and you can walk around in any given environment. This avoids another step. According to Kooijmans, producers are struggling with the question: how to bring it to the industry. The housing and gaming industries in particular are rolling out the glasses. “But you can do a lot more with them professionally. Remote maintenance, for example: the mechanic does not have to go to the factory. He puts on one of these 3D glasses, the worker enters the factory with a camera. This way the mechanic can see which screw is loose.

Tradeshow

In 2011 Kooijmans moved to Microcentrum, an independent knowledge and networking organization for the high tech and manufacturing industry. In addition to the courses, Kooijmans launched the 3D printing fair, RapidPro, the. “Technology deserved its own show and convention,” he says. The congress has become an annual event. This year he is part of the 3D production days taking place this week at the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven.

Fried Vancrean, CEO of materialize, will open the Production Days. Kooijmans: “Materialize is really a pioneer in the field of 3D printing. They built the factory of the future years ago. They were the first to set up a next day service: you send a file and the next day you have it printed in plastic. Today, the company is listed on the Nasdaq and has a turnover of 200 million. The technology is moving so quickly through to final production in cars or medical applications that it shows what is possible. »

In addition to Rapid Pro, 3D Production Days will include talks on Model-Based Definition and Virtual (R)evolution. These events are also part of Delta 3D week. Here are the other episodes of this series.