3D Print Perfection
3D printing is still a relatively new field, opening the doors of possibility when it comes to the production of prototype parts or small runs for a niche market. Based out of London, 3DPRINTUK is at the forefront of SLS 3D printing, providing a service unparalleled in the United Kingdom. After eight years of business, we profiled this company to find out more.
Established in 2011 by founder Nick Allen, 3DPRINTUK has gone from strength to strength over the last few years. Able to handle every part of the process from CAD to finishing, the talented team has explored the potential of SLS 3D printing technology. Since opening their doors, 3DPRINTUK has produced items as varied as a CAT Scan for artist Dave Farman, a glider for James May and the trophies for the Men’s and Women’s Hockey World League Finals 2015. Some would argue that the potential for 3D printing is virtually endless, but to even begin to start looking into its possibilities, you need someone who knows what they’re doing.
The appeal of 3D printing comes from its ability to produce precisely calibrated parts without the need for expensive tooling or big runs. Instead of the use of moulds or subtracting material to produce a final product, 3D printing works by taking a digital version of an object, slicing it into thin horizontal sections and laying material down layer by layer. It is only recently that the machines used to generate these creations have reached a price that allows for commercial, or even home use.
3DPRINTUK uses top end machines that provide a fine finish on their products. Using a print bed of white Nylon powder, a laser melts certain parts of the print bed, ‘colouring in’ the areas to be printed. The bed drops by 0.1mm and is recoated with the powder for another print layer. This is what sets 3DPRINTUK above the rest, providing a smoother finish as the laser blends layers together, reducing the lines that are found on cheaper machines. The result is a strong, durable product, ready for a waiting client.
As so many types of 3D printing abound, from SLA to DLP to FDM, it’s easy to try and offer them all, allowing a variety of services to be undertaken. What has made 3DPRINTUK such a success is the specialisation in one sector of the industry. In focusing on the mastery of SLS technology, the team now know its strengths and weaknesses intimately, allowing them to push boundaries that other companies wouldn’t consider.
3DPRINTUK work with any client who has a requirement for small parts, ranging from students to artists to engineering companies. A minimum order of £40 means that the market leading technology that 3DPRINTUK provide is available and accessible to everyone.
Although the majority of clients are engineering companies who can’t afford their own in-house SLS machine, you can find oneoff clients for specific purposes such as Dave Farman, who’s request for a set of accurate rib cage and lungs was turned down by other companies but accepted and printed quickly at 3DPRINTUK. For some, producing items through 3DPRINTUK has meant a 70% saving, especially when the cost of injection moulding can be incredibly expensive.
The flexibility and potential of by 3D printing has made it incredibly popular amongst students looking to experiment with 3D design. These clients are often pushing for a quick turnaround, done as cheaply as possible. 3DPRINTUK offers a generous 20% off discount to students, as well as free advice on designs to help print as efficiently as possible.
Many companies take advantage of 3DPRINTUK’s ability to produce small production runs of bespoke products. With no setup fees or mould costs, 3D printing is able to act as a viable alternative to injection
moulding with the ability to order as many or as few items as required. Altering designs, such as personalisation for individual clients, costs as much as producing identical products giving 3D printing a significant advantage. The lack of tooling means that lead time is incredibly fast, with the current record being 6,500 parts produced in 24 hours, each identical to the prototype model.
Clips, mounts and fastenings are the parts best suited to batch production runs. The nylon used in SLS printing is strong, making it perfect for small fastenings and fixtures. Being small parts, it is possible to place these in and around other parts in builds that are made allowing for swift production. Tooling these parts would be difficult to justify on a low production run, making 3D printing the ideal, and most appropriate, solution.
While 3DPRINTUK is now well established within the industry, the company relied heavily on its website and tradeshows in the early days when it was getting started. Convincing clients that their particular brand of manufacture wasn’t just a gimmick, but a powerful tool in the design arsenal was a major challenge. Attending these shows allowed potential clients to see products in the flesh and assess the quality of the parts for themselves. A slowly transforming market that has become more informed about the nature of 3D printing has encouraged many companies to explore how to use this technology for themselves.
Of course, in selling the possibilities of 3D printing, it is possible that the media has overhyped its abilities. While theoretically able to create anything using this technology, with projects using complete mechanisms that have been 3D printed garnering media attention, the team at 3DPRINTUK advocate the use of appropriate materials for the job. Such mechanisms can use gears and steel rods for a fraction of the cost of 3D printing. This practical and economically minded approach is intrinsic to the attitude of the company, with Director Nick Allen founding the company in order to provide a friendly and trustworthy face to the industry. This has meant using his, and his team’s, experience in product design to ensure an expert eye remains on projects, suggesting alternatives if requested and appropriate.
2020 looks to follow much the same pattern as 2019, with incredible growth expected for 3DPRINTUK. The current plan is to increase capacity for printing with more machines and the introduction of more automation into the workflow. The company is also looking to introduce new materials beyond the nylon that has been the heart of the business since its inception. These new materials will complement, not replace, what is already available. As the company continues to grow, with 3D printing becoming more popular by the day, the challenge is to stand out amongst a sea of other companies and the rapidly lowering price of home 3D printing.
As a provider of SLS 3D printed parts for eight years, and printing nearly two million parts in that time, it would be fair to call 3DPRINTUK one of the most experienced companies using this technology in the country. With outstanding quality as a minimum, the level of service that 3DPRINTUK give their clients is exceptional. In the rare event of a problem with a part, this company will go out of its way to find the solution that works for their clients. This is what has allowed them to build up such an impressive reputation as a first-class provider of 3D printing in the UK, trusted by their clients to excel every time.