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PRINTING our future Cost-effective, high volume production the target for 3D printing facility

3D printing specialist voxeljet has expanded its subsidiary in the UK with a move into a larger facility to meet growing demand for 3D printing.

The company unveiled the new facility in Milton Keynes to an invited audience on 12th October.

The new 3D printing service centre occupies an area of approx. 1000m² and is three times larger than the former facility at Pinewood Studios. Initially, four 3D printing systems will be installed in the production hall, with a printing capacity of approximately 10,000ltr per month. However, the site has expansion capacity of up to 50,000ltr. Both existing materials sets, sand and PMMA (plastic) as well as a new material set, polyamide (printed on high speed sintering machines) will be offered to customers from the UK subsidiary. James Reeves, managing director voxeljet UK explained: “The facility will be a state-of-the-art 3D printing factory capable of high volume part production. It is located in the middle of the UK and the heart of the high-tech engineering and motorsport region”.

Foundry Trade Journal took the opportunity to speak to Reeves about the expansion.

FTJ: Opening the new UK manufacturing facility is a big commitment for voxeljet, can you explain what your plans are for the UK market? 

JR: Sure, the UK is well known for innovative and high performance manufacturing. As such it is only right that an industrial 3D printing company such as voxeljet has an interest in the UK. We plan to bolster the UK’s manufacturing sector with highly productive industrial 3D printing services.

FTJ: How does the foundry sector fit into your plans? 

JR: The foundry sector is crucial to us. We have seen an explosion in recent years of the take up of both our sand printing and investment pattern printing in Europe with German and French foundries leading the way and really adopting our technology within production. The UK foundry sector is a little more reserved but we plan to ensure that it has access to the latest printing technology through the provision of fast and cost-effective printing services from our new site in Milton Keynes.  

FTJ: What collaborations are you involved with in UK foundries at the moment and what are the advantages? 

JR: You may think that the most exciting collaborations would be around really complex aerospace parts or motorsport castings, and sure we have done plenty of this, but where I see some of the greatest advantages in recent collaboration is cost modelling for high volume production. We have been able to show that 3D printing can be cost-effective nearly to full volume automotive production and I am sure that if we continue these collaborations then it will not be long before 3D printed cores will be used in casting automotive parts at high volume.

FTJ: It seems that 3D printing is becoming more commonplace – what changes have you seen in recent years, both in the UK and the global marketplace? 

JR: One of the most noticeable changes in recent years has been the explosion of new machine and service providers. Since a number of early patents have expired a few of the earliest types of 3D printing are now much more accessible. This has meant almost anyone can own and run a 3D printing facility – this is why it appears almost ‘common’. In the industrial world uptake is more considered and rightly so, however it is growing and really picking up momentum now.

FTJ: What are the technology’s current limitations and how do you see that changing? 

JR: It depends on your view of 3D printing. Many see it just as prototyping – in such a case the only real limitations are perhaps size and materials available for your component. However, I see 3D printing and a full-scale manufacturing solution – in this case cost is still a limiting factor. It is mainly driven by the speed of the machines and this is where the next big changes will come. Machines are getting faster, much faster and with it the costs will come down.

FTJ: In your speech at the recent opening of the UK facilities you said the company was actively involved in lots of automotive work in Germany – how will you replicate this in the UK? 

JR: I think this is about perception. Many in the UK still see 3D printing as only ever being suitable for prototyping. This is not the case. As a sector, we should be viewing this as an additional method of producing moulds, cores and patterns. It won’t replace existing processes but it will work alongside them and help to remove bottlenecks, reduce lead times and always improve costs but only for the right parts – and that is key; for the right components, this is a cost-effective manufacturing method at almost any volume. Together we need to spend a little time to understand when it is right to use 3D printing and when it is not. Currently many foundries simply assume that it will not be cost-effective and so could be missing out on winning orders.

FTJ: How is the supply chain supporting you in the UK? 

JR: At the moment, the majority of our suppliers are based in central Europe. Therefore, I am very keen to hear from the UK supply chain about how they can support our growth in the UK.

Our team at Milton Keynes is always ready to welcome visitors. Anyone who would like to come and see what sand printing and pattern printing is all about should get in touch, Tel: +44 (0) 1753 656061, email: info@voxeljet.co.uk