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First 3D printing factory upbeat.

Acompany that recently opened the Middle East's first 3D printing factory in Dubai finds the growing uptake of 3D printing encouraging.

Paradigm 3D, a pristine new 3D printing services division of Dubai-based product development technology supplier, D2M Solutions FZE, produces robust parts and fully functional prototypes that can withstand challenging testing and often perform very closely to end-use production parts. Working with only high-performance industrial quality materials means customers can order low-volume production, driving down their overall costs and making huge time savings.

The facility is hosted within D2M Solutions FZE headquarters that is based in Dubai Silicon Oasis, where the company originally established in 2009. With the new set-up, Paradigm 3D maintains a complementary role in providing 3D printing services and low-volume manufacturing to the D2M Solutions' offering of advanced 3D design to manufacturing software from Dassault Systemes, hardware - 3D printers from Stratasys Ltd and 3D scanners from Creaform.

Paradigm 3D stressed that the new operation is not a factory in the traditional sense, because it doesn't need a production line. Still, it describes it as a 'factory' because it has the largest capacity for professional 3D printing services in the region. In this way Paradigm 3D differentiates itself from the hobbyist 3D printing shops that have recently popped up catering to individuals who want an attractive but non-functional 3D print, but don't need high performance.

3D printers at the Paradigm 3D plant, a division of D2M Solutions. At right Fortus 900, a 3D printer at Paradigm 3D with the largest build capacity

Paradigm 3D and the new 3D printing services division was created by D2M Solutions to be dedicated to providing professional 3D printing services both locally in the UAE and to the wider Middle East area from this regional hub. With the growth in 3D printing for professional purposes (or additive manufacturing, as it is also referred to), Paradigm 3D aims at providing quick and accurate parts or fully functional product prototypes on-demand that it can supply in a matter of hours to a few days, as opposed to the way customers would need months by using traditional metal tooling methods of production.

Jimmy Nicolaides, general manager of Paradigm 3D, said the company recognised the need for such a dedicated division in response to two major factors: "Firstly, many existing customers with 3D Printers found that due to heavy machine use, they occasionally could not cope with their internal demand for 3D printing. This meant they were looking to outsource their extra needs locally, fast and through a trusted partner who could guarantee professional results. In which case their first choice was through the Paradigm 3D division, due to the company's long-term experience in both design and printing 3D parts.

"Additionally, as Paradigm 3D has the latest high performance 3D production systems from Stratasys, they can offer additional materials that customers may need occasionally to supplement their existing 3D printing capabilities.

"Secondly," Nicolaides continued, "some GCC companies want to try and test 3D printing as part of their new product development process so they can evaluate the benefits of 3D printing, and its cost-effectiveness in their production or prototype phases. If their demand for 3D printing increases, it can make more sense for them to buy their own 3D printer."

Paradigm 3D has five in-house 3D printers (or additive manufacturing systems) from the Stratasys Performance range including the Fortus 400 systems (build envelope: 406 x 355 x 406 mm) and the Fortus 900 with the fastest and largest build capacity (build envelope: 914 x 610 x 914 mm). This represents the major capability for 3D printing with FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) in the whole of the Middle East.

FDM technology has been developed by Stratasys and is one of the most mature and successful technologies used worldwide. Basically, the FDM machines need a 3D CAD file in STL format (STL is the format needed for 3D printing). The FDM systems use the STL file to automatically slice the design into layers and calculate the amount of thermoplastic and support material which needs to be extruded in order to build the part. The Fortus machines can build 3D parts in a very wide range of high performance industrial thermoplastics such as: ABS (great tensile, impact and flexural strength), ABS-M30i (biocompatible and sterilisable), PC (superior mechanical properties and heat resistance), PC-ABS (highest impact strength), and Ultem 9085 (aerospace certified, high heat and chemical resistance).

Recently additional materials have been added to the range including FDM ASA and Nylon 12. The ASA material is considered great for outdoor parts due to its high level of stability to UV rays, and Nylon 12 provides impressive qualities when repetitive snap-press parts or closures are needed.


A 3D printing thermoforming mould for packaging

Nicolaides dwelt on the advantages to customers: "With the new 'virtual' factory, customers can sit at their desks and start their 3D print production process by simply connecting with the Paradigm 3D website," he began. "They can get an online quotation, select from a range of suitable materials and, with a few easy steps, can order on line, once they are happy with the quote and their 3D design file has been verified for printing. When the 3D printers are set in motion, they can print 24/7 to finish the job as fast as possible meaning that the company is not restricted to office hours and permitting Paradigm 3D to offer a very fast turn-around of parts."

Paradigm's engineers are mainly derived from the D2M Solutions environment, so they have vast experience of the design to manufacture industrial products through industries as diverse as aerospace and defence, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), automotive, spare parts and components, plastics, dies and moulds, household appliances, electrical goods, industrial equipment, etc.

"Paradigm 3D personnel are well versed to advise the customer in any aspects of 3D printing and the company has also created a number of challenging projects in-house to demonstrate the many ways that 3D printing can be used in the most demanding ways," said Nicolaides. "Paradigm 3D has incorporated 3D printing with lighting, electronics and remote controls to create some fully functional prototype models and customised final products, in order to inspire new customers as to the possibilities that 3D printing creates," he added.

The company has strict criteria for customers' approval of the quality of 3D printed parts, but due to the advanced software and ability to analyse the 3D design data, normally any product problems are ironed out prior to sending the print job to the machine. Also Paradigm 3D personnel can advise the customer on many issues such as the most suitable material, the print orientation in the machine, etc, but ultimately, the customer is responsible to ensure complete testing of the parts if they are intended for use in final products, because he has the specific manufacturing knowledge and the Paradigm 3D printing service uses customer data, so has limited control over the final manufacturing of customer products.

"The new 3D printing factory shaves months off a customer's new product development, and with FDM 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, materials are used only where they are precisely required and there is minimal waste," Nicolaides highlighted. "No tooling is required compared to traditional manufacturing and all the expense related to producing expensive metal tools is removed. In this way, FDM is considered far more environmentally friendly than traditional manufacturing and all associated energy savings are also achieved through this method of production. FDM technology is a very clean process which doesn't emit any harmful fumes or chemicals," he said.

Nicolaides also observed that 3D printing as a means for low-volume manufacturing is relatively new in the Middle East region. "However," said the official, "if the demand growth follows international trends for Additive Manufacturing and the tendency for fast uptake of new technologies within the UAE, we foresee the need to add further FDM capacity in the future.

"Currently, the majority of 3D print jobs are from repeat customers interested in low volume manufacturing of relatively small numbers of parts because they need to make preproduction runs for product testing. Approximately 30 per cent of the new business is coming from customers who need customised parts, and there have even been requests for gold-plated parts that customers wanted to use for exhibition mock-ups, (providing a very similar look and feel), rather than creating real parts using precious metals. The market is becoming more informed about the ways 3D printing can be used and diverse requests keep coming."


With only six years before the UAE hosts Expo 2020, the company believes that Gulf entrepreneurs will inevitably be quick in the uptake of 3D printing to speed their innovative products to market. 3D printing allows designers far more freedom than before when they had to create products through metal tooling; so many old rules can be discarded.

"3D printing is driving a new manufacturing era of innovation, and Paradigm 3D aims to be at the forefront in the Middle East to help this new era become a reality. The company has been contacted by a number of leading industrial companies that are interested in 3D printing of their parts and prototypes, and is looking forward to printing some groundbreaking innovative products that can be manufactured in the GCC," said Nicolaides.

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Publication:Gulf Industry
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Nov 26, 2014
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