Mimaki In 3D
Mimaki recently launched its new 3D printer (see main article), which brings its 3D printing offerings up to three models targeted at three different kinds of end users.
The first is the 3DFF-222, an entry-level 3D printer designed to allow print service providers to get their feet wet in 3D printing.
“We see it as a great way for printing companies to have a kind of accessible entry point into 3D printing,” said Josh Hope, senior manager, 3D Printing & Engineering Projects, Mimaki USA. “At this point, anybody in the printing and signage industry looks at 3D printing and says, ‘I know this is going to impact me somehow and at some point, but I’m not really clear on when or how that’s going to happen.’ I think that small machine is a great way for a printing company to say, ‘I can start to get familiar with the technology, the terminology, learn about prepping files for 3D printing, and I can do it in a way that I can make something that’s usable, whether it’s a jig for my flatbed printer or a small mold for thermoforming.”
A step up the 3D printing food chain is the 3DUJ-553, which prints using a photo polymeric resin.
“In some ways, it’s similar to traditional printing because we are, much like a UV flatbed machine, jetting a liquid through industrial inkjet heads and UV curing it to a solid,” Hope said. “From that standpoint, it’s very similar to anybody who’s had a UV flatbed printer.”
The 3DUJ-553 is intended for product prototyping and short-run production of items like collectibles, or “things that need to be high detail and very color accurate but don’t necessarily need to have a lot of strength or durability,” Hope said.
One user of this device is the Smithsonian Institution, which is using it to complement their 3D scanning capabilities. The Smithsonian has been 3D-scanning objects in their collections and using them for online virtual reality (VR) tours (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour), and are then using that data to 3D-print objects, as well. According to a January 2020 press release, the first 3D printing project undertaken by the Smithsonian Exhibits’ (SIE) studios, based in Landover, Md., was—appropriately, it would turn out—“to create full-color 3D printed models of viruses that are enlarged with great detail for hands-on engagement with visitors in the ‘Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World’ exhibition currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.” It’s alas closed to the public, at least as of this writing in early May.
The third model is the brand new 3DGD-1800 which, as Cary noted in the main article, “can produce hollow objects up to 1.8 meters in height in about seven hours.”
“[The 3DGD-1800] is really more of a POP machine,” Hope said. “That’s probably the closest to a true signage printer out of the three of them, because you can do things like channel letters and POP displays with it. You can then take what comes out of it and paint or wrap it.”
The 3DUJ-553 in particular has been seized on by the collectibles industry. One company in particular is Funko (www.funko.com), which makes collectable vinyl toys.
“They’re incredibly popular and [Funko] has the licensing for the Marvel movies, Harry Potter and all that kind of stuff, and they use the machine for prototyping those,” Hope said.
Manufacturer Milwaukee Electric Tool Company (www.milwaukeetool.com) is also a 3DUJ-553 user for a very specific reason.
“We were the only full-color 3D machine that could hit their signature Milwaukee Tool red color,” Hope said.
Another high-profile 3D printer user is Hero Forge (www.heroforge.com), which has an interesting concept. Tey have an online character builder where customers can design their own characters for role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
“They did a Kickstarter campaign for this where they had hoped to raise $46,000 to fund the expansion of their website to allow people to design these characters in full color,” Hope said. “At the end of the Kickstarter campaign, they had raised $2.3 million.”
And a company called Mixed Dimensions (https://mixeddimensions.com) specializes in spaceships, having contracts with Star Trek Online and Eve Online.
“From the online game, you can design your own ship,” Hope said. “You can then hit a button, which will send the file to Mixed Dimensions and they will print out your customized spaceship and send it to you so you can have that on your desk as you’re playing these games.”
Printing equipment manufacturers—be they 2D or 3D—often find that their products get used for applications that they had not anticipated.
“We were not thinking of the gaming market as being one of the bigger markets for that full-color 3D printer, but that’s becoming a major market for it,” Hope added.
Digital art is a topic I have been covering for 25 years, and “digital sculptors” are using 3D printing for various kinds of art. David Harroun is a Mimaki user who specializes in ocean- or surfing-related 3D sculptures. The Mimaki machine is well-suited to this kind of work.
“Not only can it do 10 million colors, but it also prints with clear and then we can add color to the clear so you can get all these different tints,” Hope said. “So he’s able to do translucent ocean waves where you can actually see sea turtles swimming through the wave and it’s all 3D printed in one piece. They’re absolutely fantastic.”
It’s interesting that we often think of 3D printing as a relatively new area, but it’s actually been around for a very long time. For example, the oldest 3D printing user group in the U.S. is more than 30 years old.
“As we’re bringing these machines to market, we’re talking to people who have had 3D departments for 15, 20 years,” Hope said.
Mimaki has also recently partnered with Adobe, which had acquired a company called Substance, which makes 3D texturing and painting software, and is integrating 3D tools into its Creative Suite. Substance also holds a 3D design contest called Meet MAT, where artists are given what is essentially a “blank canvas”—an unadorned robot figurine that serves as the mascot of the contest—which they then paint and texture and submit. The second annual Meet MAT contest just finished, and this year, Mimaki had signed on as a sponsor and is outputting the winning entries.
“We’re really excited to see how that expands and what new markets that leads us into,” Hope said. —Richard Romano