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EETE JAN 2015

Printer-ready 3D CAD files: a marketing plus By Julien Happich Both in Europe and in the US, there has been a clampdown on the illegal download of MP3 music files and movies, which seems to have been less effective than the deployment of legitimate digital stores or subscription services such as iTunes, Deezer or Spotify. On these platforms, users can get the original files they want, discreetly, without taking any bet on quality nor taking any legal risk. Developing such legal platforms for the delivery of printerready 3D CAD files, with the participation of original manufacturers is the way forward for the 3D printing industry and probably the best counter-measure against unlawful design imitations or erroneous unprintable files, according to Stefaan Motte, Director of the 3D Printing Software Segment at Materialise N.V. In an interview with EETimes Europe, Motte confirmed the trend for mass-personalization across a number of industries. He sees more and more customers take 3D printing as an opportunity to offer easy customization, mostly on casings even if the overall product design isn’t affected. Secure 3D CAD exchange isn’t anything new across professionals, but giving access to a whole new catalogue of original CAD files for consumers to buy and print is something entirely new that most OEMs should consider. “Not long ago, one of my colleagues had to fix a bumper link on his car. Because the replacement part didn’t even exist on the aftermarket, he had to 3D scan it and print it himself before he could go to the garage for a repair. If the part had been available on the original manufacturer’s site as a 3D CAD file, even for a small charge, it would have saved him time and effort”. Arguably, working at Materialise, Motte’s colleague was well acquainted with 3D printing CAD software and the technologies at hand. The company has over 100 3D printers spread across different sites (one at its headquarters in Leuven, Belgium), capable of processing 17 different types of materials, ranging from polymers to metals and ceramics. But not everyone would be so confident with such a DIY 3D printed repair job. “If you look at services such as iTunes or Spotify, users are ready to pay a reasonable amount if the service is easy to use and offers some quality assurance compared to illegal downloads. This would be even truer for 3D CAD files”, told us Motte. “Especially if you 3D print functional objects, there is a material cost associated to it and you don’t want to launch a printing session (even at home) only to find out that the part isn’t adequate, or isn’t well prepared for 3D printing”. “Here consumers will have a much higher motivation to pay for services that will guarantee them a good 3D print output, or that they get the right files compatible with their home printer”, he added. Motte sees quality assurance as a strong argument for original manufacturers to offer CAD files for lease or for print through accredited additive manufacturing services. Such services can ensure OEMs that their customers get the replacement parts or the custom parts built with exactly the same characteristics and the same qualified materials as the original parts, something they could endorse as an aftersales service. Among other things, Materialise offers 3D design and engineering services, scanning or preparing CAD files for printing, in some cases fixing submitted designs. In the future, Motte expects more and more portals to offer such services. So far the only CAD files you can find are mostly self-serving, in the sense that most 3D printer manufacturers or 3D printing houses put forward on their portals a number of verified 3D objects, ready-to-print, knowing that every materialization is a win, either through paid-for printing services, or through consumables. MakerBot does that through its digital-store and extends that with printing services for a gallery of designs from third party contributors under its thingiverse community. The company even launched several apps to help consumers design and print stuff in 3D. Materialise does that through its MGX design division, named after the .MGX file extension of the company’s 3D-printable data preparation software package, Magics. But traditional manufacturers and brands should be next, offering product customization through consumer-friendly apps and replacement parts as 3D print-ready CAD files tied to a number of recommended materials or specific printing houses (read accredited for their quality assurance). Just for the sake of branding, it would hardly cost anything for a company to give away their 3D CAD logos as downloadable, customisable key-rings and miniature items for their fans to print, very much like today’s desktop wallpapers. Bringing up a full-fledged catalogue of replacement parts is another matter, but for some industries, the whole logistic for replacement parts or for assembly is a nightmare, and integrating 3D printing to the volume manufacturing chain could drastically change inventory and stock management. For those who currently don’t offer such parts for the aftermarket, it simply opens up new business opportunities. www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2015 11


EETE JAN 2015
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