Currie Group: Close encounters with 3D

This article was part of a broader 3D Print Technology Focus published in the June 2020 issue of ProPrint. To read the full story, click here.

3D printing is no longer new or experimental.

It has permeated all corners of the community, including our classrooms. But what does it mean for Australia’s commercial print houses? For starters, nailing a corner of the modelling or prototyping market is a coup on competitors struggling with diminishing opportunities. 3D winners will be companies already established in the visual display space, perhaps with strong connections on the exhibition circuit.

Through its partnership with EVOK3D, Currie Group has leveraged its extensive sales network to offer HP’s MultiJet Fusion technology.

EVOK3D managing director, Joe Carmody, says 3D printing is a significantly different proposition – the skillsets required, from data formatting to generating a ‘build’, to post-process treatment, are quite distinct. So too is the customer base.

“2D print companies entering this field need to realise they are dealing with new clients – but they may find these in an existing client’s product development division,” Carmody says.

3D printing is used for concept modelling, prototyping, tooling and direct manufacturing. While prototyping is now a mature technology, Carmody says 3D manufacturing has loads of potential.

Short-to-medium volume runs of personalised products is 3D manufacturing’s sweet spot, he suggests. An example is prescription orthotics, which Carmody describes as the 3D equivalent of variable-data digital document printing.

To further illustrate, Carmody explains that the 3D equivalent of offset printing would be a million identical units, a process that requires a higher investment in tooling and lower-cost impressions.

However, the reality is that identical, repeatable manufacturing is more economically achieved through injection moulding than 3D printing.

And like their 2D counterparts, the shorter, data-rich runs are based on a higher capital investment in a data-intelligent manufacturing process, recouped through higher unit prices for the product.

For medically customised orthotics, a typical Australian production run is somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 per year, using thermoplastics such as a nylon or polypropylene powder agent. Post-processing sees the base of the orthotic combined by gluing together with a neoprene top layer.

The HP MultiJet Fusion portfolio includes two separate platforms.

The 500 Series includes the 540 and 580 devices, designed for inhouse automated production by product development teams, design firms and universities in either mono or full colour. The HP MultiJet Fusion 5200 produces durable end-use parts in low to medium volumes.

The HP MultiJet Fusion machines can nest in 3D space, batches of components within the ‘build’ (print run), and unused product can be recycled, notes Carmody.

Typical post-process work involves de-powdering, smoothing, polishing and painting, he says. For most post-processing, manual intervention is required, with the product unloaded to a processing station, but R&D is moving towards greater inline production for what 3D manufacturers describe as “from art to part”.

For the past two years, the Currie Group-EVOK3D partnership has developed the Department of Defence as a key client, he says.

In the post-2020 era, the Department of Defence is described as: “developing a rapid, agile sovereign manufacturing capability close to the point of consumption”.

For Currie Group, the HP 3D series provides a new vertical market.

Carmody says Currie Group was identified as the optimal partner for EVOK3D because of its track record with the HP Indigo digital press brand.

“Currie Group has made a name for itself as a digital disrupter of what was an analogue printing industry, so this partnership has been a natural fit,” Carmody said.

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