BNN Interviewer: Well, the most frequently used real world applications of 3D technology may not be quite as exciting as a 3D printed car. In fact, 3D printers have been used to produce industrial prototypes for a long time. They’re fast, cheap and designer-friendly. Manufacturers can more easily test them or make modifications before embarking on costly mass production. Our next guest works for a prototype producer based just outside of Toronto. Annette Kalbhenn is sales manager at 3D Prototype Design and we welcome her to the program. Great to have you with us.
3D Prototype, Annette: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
BNN Interviewer: And you brought some stuff with you too.
3D Prototype, Annette: Yeah, I brought some examples so you can get a sense of what it is that we do.
BNN Interviewer: And so, what have you made here? There’s some things on the desk and how long they take to make and how complicated are they?
3D Prototype, Annette: Well, basically, if I could just tell you a little bit about how they’re made. We use a process called SLS, Selective Laser Sintering. It’s a little bit different than your first guest. It lays out a layer of nylon powder that’s four thousandths of an inch thick, so two hairs thick. And then the laser comes along and melts the first cross section of your part.
BNN Interviewer: Okay.
3D Prototype, Annette: Whatever doesn’t get melted remains as a powder and that’s what acts as our support structure. The bed drops down four thousandths of an inch, another layer of powder goes across, the first layer is melted to the second layer. And it continues to go until all the parts are built. We take it out and then we’re doing sort of like an archaeological dig. So we have to dig through the loose powder to find the solid pieces, give them a bead blast of air to remove any of the loose powder and then the parts are good and ready to go. What’s great about this technology is we’re working with nylon material and melting one layer to the next. So it’s going to be the closest thing you can get to an injection-molded part without creating a mold or going to tooling.
BNN Interviewer: And so, how big a “printing unit” do you need in order to make something like this or something like that?
3D Prototype, Annette: Well, our size of bed is 11 by 13 inches and goes 15 inches high, so that’s not an issue for us, but we have done items much bigger than that. We break it down kind of like LEGO, build it in pieces and then put it together like we did a scaled down chassis for a Hummer that was over six feet long. It traveled the world three times and ended up in our customer’s boardroom. And because it’s plastic — durable, functional part.
BNN Interviewer: And so, is that something that we could see happening on a full-industrial level before too long?
3D Prototype, Annette: Absolutely. It could. There could be an application where more… I think the thing right now is that there’s still an education level that needs to happen and I’m quite surprised how everyday, I’m speaking with customers all day from all walks of life, from investors to people who are in corporate and industrial settings, and they’re still not really well-versed in what’s available and what the capabilities are or the technology. So, maybe one day down the road, but a little more education needs to be involved.
BNN Interviewer: So what’s the dream in this industry? Is it to actually replace current factories, replace the robots that we have now? I mean, do you foresee in your dreams that in 20, 25 years, this could be the real means of manufacturing?
3D Prototype, Annette: We have a long way to go before we get to the Star Trek replicator. We’re not there yet because the type of prototypes we can make right now are really shells. So everything that you see here, like this house, is a scaled down house or this car air vent. These are all just shells of things, but if you want to put technology into it, then that has to be a separate step on its own. For me, my dream would be if we could manufacture a part that looks exactly like, or if we could make a part that looks like an exact manufactured part that’s injection molded that you would see on the store in Wal-Mart, but technology’s really not quite there yet.
BNN Interviewer: And so, what will it take to get it there?
3D Prototype, Annette: A lot more R&D on the behalf of the companies who are making the technology right now.
BNN Interviewer: And so, R&D requires money? I mean, how much money are we talking about?
3D Prototype, Annette: Money and motivation, I think. Right now, I see that the technology, it seems to be streaming more towards lower end machines, so they’re trying to make them a little more economical for maybe hobbyists and that type of thing, but the issue for a professional company like ourselves have with that, is that the parts are not usable, so they’re making them with plaster compounds and glue. So, while it’s very cool to look at, it’s not a functional usable part. So I see a lot of technology right now that’s going towards inexpensive machines, but they’re not really focusing on how can we improve or make this type of thing a lot more to the standards of a manufactured part.
BNN Interviewer: Our previous guest, Jim Kor with the Urbee car, near the end I was asking him about financing and he says a lot of capital is actually flowing at this kind of thing these days. Is that actually happening?
3D Prototype, Annette: There is, but there’s still again, going back to that education, there’s still a lot of convincing that needs to be done to get the point across that you can save thousands and thousands of dollars by doing a prototype first before you manufacture and you’re going to sleep better at night. So, I still spend a lot of time educating customers on that type of thing.
BNN Interviewer: Is there a sense that it just might stay in the prototype realm and not move beyond that?
3D Prototype, Annette: Possibly. I mean it would be really fun if you could conjure up an idea and then ask for it and it would be built for you, but it may stay, unless a brand new technology came out, something that was totally different than what we’re currently seeing, somebody thought a little bit out of the box and came up with something very different.
BNN Interviewer: So how much would it cost to produce each of these things? Say this air vent for a car, how much would that?
3D Prototype, Annette: Everything is a little bit different, but approximately about $500-$600 for this type of thing. So it sort of depends on how many pieces there are, the area it takes up and how many you’re doing. So, generally with our process, the more you build, the lower your per piece cost is. So, our starting cost can be as low as $265, but we’ve done things that are much larger and they come with a little bit of a higher price tag.
BNN Interviewer: Right, we’ve been hearing about actual production items though from companies like Timberland or Sysco and so forth, I mean, how many more companies are looking at this?
3D Prototype, Annette: Are looking at this type of technology?
BNN Interviewer: Yeah.
3D Prototype, Annette: There’s probably a lot of companies that are looking at that type of thing, but my question to them is, does the technology that’s being offered right now suit your end needs? Is it going to give you what you’re going to need to sell to your customer?
BNN Interviewer: Well hopefully they won’t be pumping television hosts out of 3D printers anytime soon.
3D Prototype, Annette: I don’t think either of us will be out of a job that soon.
BNN Interviewer: Alright Annette, well it’s great to have you with us. Many thanks for coming in.
3D Prototype, Annette: Thank you very much for having me.
BNN Interviewer: Thanks a lot. Annette Kalbhenn, she is sales manager with 3D Prototype Design in Toronto. Coming up next, your next table or lamp could be made by a 3D printer. We’ll look at the potential of 3D printing and what it means for the manufacturing industry after this short break. Please stay with us.[/fusion_text]