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Created in 2011, Creabis is a Service Bureau, based in Munich – Germany, that prints prototypes, functional models and small batch series. Expert in SLS® 3D printing, they started implanting advanced materials in 2016.
Ralf Deuke, Managing Director, and Michael Loeffl, Technical Manager, gave us their feedback & tips to face the challenges of integrating new material in a service bureau.
“At the beginning, we started by implementing a new German based PP powder to diversify our offer and we definitely had a lot of problems. The first problem was that there were more or less no existing parameter sets for this PP, so we had to develop it from scratch. We also had to figure the powder refresh rate and we found out that this PP was fine for let’s say five or six cycles… and then it didn’t go. Also, we experienced some problems with the consistency batch to batch so when we received the new batch all the parameters we had defined before didn’t work anymore. We finally made it up to a point where we had a real big order for like 15 to 20 jobs. And after the fifth job, everything crashed completely. We had to stop this order and by this of course we lost a lot of confidence at our customers. Honestly, this first experience was a real disaster.”
“For the logistics, that’s nothing new as we always had a lot of different materials in the past though. But it can be even more complicated when you are running 2 or 3 different PPs, so you really have to care about not mixing up the powders, which definitely happens to be honest. And you always find out when the job is already running and you look into it and say: “hey, that looks strange. What happened?”. Also, when we started working with the Prodways 3D Printer, we were swapping between two materials, so one or two weeks TPU and one or two weeks the PP and so there was no other material anymore under the Prodways machine because it really suits the best for this advance materials as it’s much better to have the roller recoater for lower temperature materials.”
“There was one thing that we definitely learned: it’s not good to swap between low temperature and high temperature materials! Because you have to make sure that you clean the machine very well, otherwise you will run into serious problems. And no matter how good the machine is designed, it simply takes a lot of time to perfectly clean it. So at some point you run into this simple equation: what is cheaper to invest into a new machine or to spend like 4-5 hours every week in cleaning the machine? And you reach a level where switching materials makes no more sense. So you have to think about investing into an additional machine to dedicate it only for one material. To answer this specific need, I think the positioning of the Prodways SLS® 3D printers machine is ideal, by providing a package at less than 200k€ including all the accessories you need. It is something that you can normally negotiate without any big problem with your banks. If it goes above 200K€ it’s more difficult for the banks, you have to provide a lot more paperwork and you have to go back into all your balance sheets for two or three years and things like that. But 160-190k€ is more or less, let’s say easy to get the financing for.“
“Convincing customers is not that difficult to be honest, because they are really looking for additional materials that come closer to their normal injection molding materials or whatever process they normally use in manufacturing. I think customers are fed up by being offered PA 12 and PA 11 as the universal solution for whatever just because it’s available. Some people that have been interested in Additive Manufacturing have stopped looking into it because they found out that the materials they were looking for are simply not available. So you have to re-activate them and make them aware of these new opportunities and new materials that are available. That’s more or less the only challenge there. As soon as you can go out and tell customers “I have a PP and TPU and it’s closer to your normal processes” they are more than happy to give it a try. We need even far more materials to spread the use of Additive Manufacturing. Of course you always have to look at it and understand their needs, not only with regards to the material properties, means the mechanical and thermal properties. What is always an issue when you switch customers to additive manufacturing, is the surface quality and the availability of colors. So you have to make sure that the slightly rough surface is acceptable for the customer. You have to make sure that they accept the natural color, or find ways to dye the material, to tumble it. Some kind of chemical smoothing and things like that are now available to meet the customers’ expectations with regards to the visual aspects of the material.”
“More and more customers really understand the potential for Additive Manufacturing. As an example for small components, sometimes you can do even 20,000 of smaller components in 3D printing and still be cheaper than making usual manufacturing process. And especially after looking into the last two years, it’s definitely the fact of having the parts available. The biggest projects we had in the last year were definitely based on the fact that the tools which were supposed to come from areas in the world where they had a lot of issues with COVID-19. The company simply were not able to supply it. So 3D printing was used as a bridge technology to fill the gap until the parts were available. Also, some people are really looking for advanced materials. For example, we had a customer that was doing real big components in the automotive industry. And we asked him “Why do you go for PP?” Because its part are very challenging to build in PP, and the answer was “I need it because we test PA12 or PA11 but we also want to simulate the sound of the parts, when it’s more or less fitted into the car and how does the car sound.” And here PP was the only way to do it.”
“Also, the Prodways machines has a big advantage: you can really modify all different parameters so you can set specific ramps for temperatures in various areas of the build chamber, for the powder distribution and everything. It is a bit sophisticated, but it’s very good because you really can adapt to the special needs of the material. Because the TPU behaves totally different than PA 12 or PP. So we modified this for these materials and customers applications then you’re really fine. And afterwards it’s always the same. So it’s some kind of let’s say semi-automatic thing and that’s very good.”