End of year thoughts from the Managing Director of ICENI® Ltd

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As 2014 draws to a close has 3d printing enthralled or disappointed? As Managing Director of ICENI Limited I feel bound to ask that question, especially after recently talking to a chap charged with selling the technology at a retail level. He seemed a little despairing. “How many plastic Yoda’s will people want to print until they get fed up”? His enquiry, surprising coming from someone trying to sell the technology, was actually very astute. For how many times have we seen the aforementioned Jedi proudly displayed alongside all manner of 3d machines? Herein we find one of the problems of 3d printing at the domestic level. One can make all sorts of things that no one really wants. Friends and others must then give effusive praise in order to avoid causing offence. How many landfills will be needed to accommodate the detritus of this industry going forward?

Since buying our 3d printer we have wrestled – with what conceivable value these instruments of molten plastic can actually deliver? Our first print was absolutely appalling – more splodge than anything else. Yet our skills soon improved and some fine outcomes were achieved. However, even better plastic ‘things’ can be purchased from the shops. So why bother? The answer, we suspect, is found in one word – creativity. The Yoda’s, the key rings, the elastic band propelled aeroplanes, and all sorts of other things are merely a training exercise. In attempting to produce them we have learned about calibrating our machine, about print bed temperature, about the best print surfaces. In other words our capacity to use a 3d printer has been developed to the point where we can now concentrate on the true purpose of these machines – creativity.

My expertise is particularly orientated towards the orthopaedic industry. This is a hugely rewarding area to be involved with but it presents an environment beset with many challenges. I have been involved with instrument design in the past and noted a complex and expensive process. Yet in late 2013 our editor suggested a solution to an orthopaedic instrumentation problem after working on, and being inspired by, a component in an old classic motorcar – a 1978 Fiat 131 Mirafiori. Discussions followed and shortly afterwards a crude prototype ABS plastic instrument emerged from our Solidoodle printer. Modest refinements were made to the point where we were able to initially validate the concept. Encouraging progress followed and the project was passed to a specialist New Zealand based medical Engineering Company (Enztec Limited). Firstly they produced SLA samples and, more recently, usable evaluation instruments. Time and clinical assessment will be the ultimate arbiters of this innovation but it would probably not have got beyond a thought, or at best a scribble on an envelope, without 3d printing technology

To me the above delivered a revelation as to the true potential of 3d printing at what we might call the ‘retail’ level. It is the capacity to give an idea physical form that can then be assessed for value, for benefits. It is the ability to do this at extremely low cost. If we are disappointed with 3d printing perhaps we are failing to deploy our machines in an appropriate fashion. Therefore let us resolve in 2015 to use this wonderful technology in creative endeavours that will benefit not just ourselves but others. This is an opportunity in its infancy, yet one brimming with potential. As President Ronald Reagan famously noted: “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Next year we hope to get 3dinsider.com back on track with a particular emphasis on getting practical outcomes from 3d printing technology. In the meantime we wish our readers, and the broader additive technology community, a very happy Christmas and creative New Year.

Malcolm Frost (Managing Director ICENI Limited)

Printer plans Christmas Card