3D printing is ready for large-scale manufacturing. That is, if 3D Systems has anything to say about it.
On Monday, the company shipped its Figure 4 production platform, a system which the company says produces plastic parts 50 times faster than comparable 3D printing systems. The system is both modular and scalable, ranging from single-print engines to systems comprising 16 or more print engines.
“The system is an ultra-fast scalable platform working across verticals – aerospace, automotive, healthcare, dental and durable goods,” Vyomesh Joshi, president and CEO of 3D Systems told Forbes. “It’s configurable for different applications.”
One of the first markets that 3D Systems is targeting with its new system is dentistry. 3D Systems is already in the dentistry market, but it expects that the Figure 4 system could expand its impact there, aided by its recent acquisition of NextDent, which creates materials for the dental industry.
“We think there’s a $3.7 billion opportunity for 3D printing in dentistry by 2021,” said Joshi.
There are a number of advantages to using 3D printing in dentistry. One of these is the accuracy of the fit. Because many dentists today already make use of 3D scanners for their patients, it’s a simple step to use those scans to 3D print items like crowns and dentures. The 3D printing can also produce dental devices faster than traditional milling techniques, according to the company.
“Our system can print 20-30 crowns in fewer than 15 minutes,” Joshi said in a statement, “which is the same time it takes most milling solutions to produce a single crown.”
In terms of pricing, the company says that its product is competitive with traditional milling. In addition, the company says that in the long run, use of a fully integrated additive manufacturing solution of this type reduces the total cost of operation compared to traditional techniques.
3D Systems’ first target in the dental industry will be the large dental labs, who manufacture dental apparatuses on a large scale. But because the system is modular, they’ll also be looking at smaller labs as well as some large dental practices that have already been insourcing some of their manufacturing.
“This can change the business model for labs,” said Joshi. “They’re already consolidating and worrying about cost structure. This allows them to accelerate the things they want to do from a business point of view. It can lead to profitable revenue growth for labs.”
Of course, dentistry is just one of the main areas that 3D Systems wants to target with its new Figure 4 system. The company’s ultimate goal is to become a platform for manufacturing along many different verticals.
“This is not just a dental story,” Joshi said. “We are going to do this for every single vertical. From dentists to auto companies. That’s the big story.”