The slow march to productionizing the work of some 3D print technology is generating some interesting partnerships.
For decades the use of 3D printing technology was mostly the realm of prototyping, and that could be said to be still the case today.
But there is a titanic shift slowly underway towards the use of the technology for production use, where end products are made rather than simply prototypes.
The trigger for this shift seems to be that several categories of machines tripped over capability boundaries where they now can reliably produce production parts. The two areas where this is most evident are 3D metal printing and low volume manufacturing.
3D metal printing has become a strong strategy among some categories of manufacturing, most notably aerospace, where production parts are becoming the norm.
Low volume manufacturing leverages the ability of today’s 3D printers to produce parts in strong, production-ready materials, but is limited by the costs to produce large quantities of objects.
The reaction among 3D print technology vendors is varied. Some are ignoring the shift, while others are rapidly making partnerships to enhance their position in the future.
Stratasys and several others have partnered with Siemens, for example, to provide a direct link into existing production systems.
One new one I just noticed was that Sigma Labs, makers of print quality control system PrintRite3D, have now offered a “Developer’s Kit”.
PrintRite3D, which we explored earlier, is a sophisticated quality control system where numerous sensor data are collected and analyzed to form an opinion of a newly completed part. Such a system might not be required for prototyping, but a quality control system is definitely required for production applications.
The developer’s kit is a package of software that permits a software or hardware vendor to integrate directly with the PrintRite3D system, essentially adding a quality control system option to their product.
And that’s exactly what Sigma Labs wants here: rather than making explicit partnerships to capitalize on the productionizing trend, they’re letting the market create the relationships themselves by self-selecting the developer’s kit.
It’s an interesting and different strategy that I hope is used by an increasing number of 3D print market participants for other integratabtle functions.