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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Piecing the ZCorp Puzzle

So back in May, ZCorp introduced a 3D printer — the Zbuilder Ultra. Actually, they called it a 'rapid prototyping machine'! I usually jump all over press releases such as that, but in this case I held back. Even on the first read a couple of things struck me as odd — the release talked about the DLP technology employed by the machine, a complete deviation from its traditional technology base for its ZPrinting range of 3D printers, but there was not one single mention of "new", "revolutionary" or even "improved" technology. Now that is beyond odd for an announcement like this. The second thing that occurred to me was how similar the image of the machine was to the Envisiontec 3D printers. It seems I was not the only one to notice that!

Reading the press release more closely, it was extremely carefully worded throughout and prompted me to do a little digging and wait and see what emerged. Sure enough, an anonymous tip declared that ZCorp and Envisiontec have come to an agreement and Envisiontec is the manufacturer.

I have no idea why all the cloak and dagger theatrics are deemed necessary. It is not a huge surprise that machine manufacturers are looking to join forces at some level following the Stratasys / HP announcement. Moreover, these two are a good match. Envisiontec's technology is extremely competitive on accuracy and speed and has made significant in roads into the jewellery sector as a result. ZCorp offers full colour options and has a good market profile. By initiating a collaborative agreement, both companies are strengthening their position ahead of a shifting market dynamic.

Personally I think that their positions would be even stronger if they were just upfront about the whole thing!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Clever, Canny or Just Cynical and Gimmicky?

So 3D Systems and some of its distributors are offering trade-in deals for a ProJet 3D printer.

The logic of replicating a very successful business model is undeniable, whereby users of 3D printers can 'trade-up' to a ProJet. Beyond the logic of the idea and the gimmicky rhetoric, which goes something like this:

For a limited time only, we will credit you up to US$15,000 toward the purchase of any new ProJet 3000, or a new ProJet 5000 3D Production System when you trade-in your existing 3D printer.

... the reality is that the customer will be surrendering their exisiting 3D printer for up to $15,000 off a new ProJet, that costs in the region of $60,000.

Furthermore, 3D Systems also lists the equipment brands that can be traded in:
  • Stratasys
  • Dimension
  • Objet
  • Z-Corp
  • Envisiontec
  • 3D Systems' InVision series 3-D modelers. 
Obvious choices perhaps, but it begs the question, if this offer works, and even one person takes it up, what will 3D Systems do with the old machine(s)??? 

Any suggestions?

Sciaky Goes Above Radar

With its presence at the upcoming International Conference on AM at Loughborough in July, Sciaky is taking it's EBFFF technology into the mainstream consciousness of the Additive world. EBFFF — or Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, which the company shortens to EBF3 — could make a big impact because it seems the thing that makes it different is that it is a big technology. 

I cannot find any specific information on part dimensions at this point, maybe that will be part of the unveiling at Loughborough, but deposition rates are quoted as ranging from 15 to 40 pounds of metal per hour — depending on the material and application (of course, this is standard patter). This deposition rate of metal, if accurate, is a significant increase from what has been available to date and could be the key to success here. Add to this the material choices — titanium, nickel, stainless steel and refractory alloys — and the application base becomes even more interesting. 

Sciaky’s historical pedigree is founded in electron beam welding, a technology that is used in industries such as aerospace, defence and manufacturing so the company has all the right contacts for introducing the first large scale Additive Manufacturing process.

The other angle that caught my attention is the PC-based control system, which according to Sciaky, takes advantage of the company’s extensive experience using integrated CNC motion and process controls.

Sciaky is a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries (PSI) so backing and further development should not be an issue.

I suspect this is one to watch.