As the number of 3D printers grows daily, two manufacturers of “2D” printers have entered the market. And, no, HP is not one of them.
The providers, one a company that most people have not heard of — Mimaki Engineering — and another that is well-known worldwide — Ricoh, are employing very different go-to-market strategies.
My colleague Tomoko Mitani and I visited with Mimaki in Japan last month. Mimaki is well-known in the wide format printing market, where its printers are used by printing companies that produce large signs, billboards, point-of-sale advertising and more. Mimaki 2D printers include wide format all-in-one printer-cutters, flatbed cutting machines, and flatbed printers that use solvent, latex and ultraviolet inkjet technology.
Mimaki leveraged its inkjet technologies to create a full-color, UV-cured material jetting 3D printer. Its binder jetting printer prints with incredible brightness and realism.
Mimaki 3D-printed Vegetable Still Life
Additive, full-color 3D printing (where cyan, magenta, yellow, black and special inks are combined to create a rainbow of colors) is currently available from 3D Systems (binder jetting), Mcor Technologies (sheet lamination), Microjet Technologies (binder jetting) and Stratasys (material jetting). Among those three companies, the most vibrant prints are available from Mcor, which uses bright white sheets of office paper in its process. The plaster-like material that 3D Systems prints with and the current Stratasys plastic material jetting systems produce prints that have a muted appearance. To my eye, Mimaki’s prints were on a par with Mcor’s prints but with the detail and flexible materials that Mcor cannot presently achieve.
Mimaki Material Jetting Schematic
According to the company, Mimaki’s proprietary coloring method enables it to print more than 10 million colors. Accurate color is the result of utilizing ICC profiles (see footnote) and precise, accurate ink droplet placement in 32 micron layers. Very fine detail, including text and thin lines, are possible. Coupled with thin and flexible layers of transparent ink, the result is incredible:
Mimaki 3D-printed Dragonfly
Based on the samples that we saw and handled, Mimaki’s claims that 3D-printed parts can be bent, twisted, drilled and tapped are believable. As a result, the prints could eventually be found in applications ranging from prototypes to focus group samples to figurines to medical models and more.
Mimaki is already using the printers in its 3D printing service bureau to produce customer orders. Their plan is to learn about customer quality expectations and support requirements before rolling out the press to its existing base of printing companies worldwide. It is safe to say that these companies — who print and sell 2D marketing materials today — will use the printers for not only prototyping but also three-dimensional point-of-sale items of all types.
In 2013 Gartner predicted that by 2016, two of the major 2D printer manufacturers will be selling 3D printers under their own brand names. Only one 2D (paper) printer manufacturer had marketed 3D printers under its own name prior to 2013. HP sold Stratasys printers with its “Designjet” model designation in 2012 but abandoned that program. At the time of the prediction, the reason that 2D printer manufacturers were willing to be on the sidelines or to participate as OEM providers to 3D printer manufacturers was that the 3D printer market was much too small and insufficiently mature.
Nevertheless, we saw the 3D printer space as an adjacent one that logically leverages the 2D printer providers’ imaging, deposition, software, material science, manufacturing and workflow capabilities. Our prediction was largely on target. Mimaki Engineering brought its 3D printer to market in the fall of 2015 in its Mimaki 3D Print Service business but will not begin selling them until the fall of 2016 (when HP plans to introduce its first Multi Jet Fusion printer). In the meantime, Ricoh partnered with longtime supplier Aspect on its AM S5500P selective laser sintering device. Ricoh’s 3D printer, which prints with plastic resin materials, is an Aspect’s RaFaEl printer and entered the market in fall 2015.
Quoting Wikipedia, “In color management, an ICC profile is a set of data that characterizes a color input or output device, or a color space, according to standards promulgated by the International Color Consortium (ICC).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICC_profile
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