Stratasys and DyeMansion introduce reference architecture to bring colour and finish to SAF 3D printed parts

When DyeMansion CEO Felix Ewald declared “Challenge accepted” in a post on social media last week, a colourful part in his hand, 3D printed using a new Stratasys powder-based technology and finished to that injection-mould like standard the post-processing company has become known for, it wouldn’t have been out of the realms of possibility to assume there was something bigger going on between the two additive manufacturing (AM) companies.

Earlier that day, AM giant Stratasys had introduced not one, not two, but three new 3D printers, each based on a different polymer technology. Announced in tandem with its first post-acquisition Origin product and an expansion of Stratasys’ mainstay FDM technology, the most intriguing system was the Stratasys H350, the first machine from the company’s recently announced H Series Production Platform, built on its Selective Absorption Fusion (SAF) technology, and notably, Stratasys’ first powder-based AM process.

Today, any suspicions around a partnership have been confirmed as the two have announced a strategic alliance to create “the first reference architecture for production scale additive manufacturing” centred on the H Series Production Platform and DyeMansion’s Print-to-Product solution. According to a press release, in practice, this reference architecture outlines a process for using AM to mass produce end-use parts with consistent high-quality and at a price point that’s competitive with traditional manufacturing processes.

In a conversation with TCT, Patrick Carey, Senior Vice President, Americas Products and Solutions, Stratasys, provided more insight: “A reference architecture is kind of an IT industry term. If I’m to build something, what’s the architecture? Has somebody made it work and measured the output? As the industry, especially Stratasys, moves into manufacturing in a big way, as you saw [last] week, we need to start helping our manufacturing customers to develop a whole solution. So, we’re saying, this isn’t how you have to do it but here’s a way to do it.”

The H350 and SAF (The result of a joint venture with Xaar) has been designed specifically to address mass production applications. According to Stratasys, DyeMansion’s Print-to-Product workflow, which includes cleaning, surfacing and colouring, is said to complement the technology well, particularly as the AM moves into more high volume, end-use applications.

“Rather than say, ‘here’s a printer, go figure it out, good luck’, which is kind of the industry standard because we’re maturing from prototyping when it didn’t really matter, you’re making one or two of something,” Carey continued, “when you’re making 10,000 of something and we’re competing with injection moulding, it’s really important we get the consistency and we know the price.”

Also speaking with TCT, the excitement from DyeMansion, which just launched its next-generation machine line-up, around partnering with “big Stratasys,” as CEO Ewald called it, is palpable.

“It’s really about delivering consistency, reproducibility and throughput throughout the whole workflow, from printing to finishing,” Ewald said. “We are super excited because the parts look amazing. We are very excited about the future and where [this partnership] will take us.”

Depending on the application requirements, customers can choose between two different finishes including a semi-gloss finish delivering a homogeneous scratch resistant surface, or a more functional finish delivering completely sealed and washable surfaces.

DyeMansion technology has typically worked with industry standard white powder-based processes, though a partnership with HP last year provided a first look at the technology being successfully applied to grey parts printed via Multi Jet Fusion. SAF parts come out of the machine with a grey finish, which, historically, has been a challenge for colouring technology, but Ewald says, due to the quality of the as-printed surface, DyeMansion has been able to achieve a wide range of colour finishes.

“The parts a very homogeneous,” Ewald said of SAF. “Parts from other from other technologies [are] kind of inconsistent on the surface and when we apply the colouring, the result is inconsistent. So [SAF] parts look really nice and homogeneous and we can also apply a huge palette of colours and that’s because the parts are so uniform when they come out of a printer.”

The ability to add colour and consumer-friendly finish to parts naturally opens up more applications for SAF, particularly in areas like eyewear, automotive interiors and orthotics, where DyeMansion has already found success through customers like Götti Switzerland, Daimler and Gottinger.

Ewald commented: “We really believe that with the new SAF technology we can also really come to consumer high-volume consumer applications because of the nice-looking, end-use parts that come out of the process.”

Carey agreed: “Parts that people see, touch and interact with, we’ve reduced that barrier here with the ability to dye and smooth and change the finish, etc.”

Elaborating further on the origin of this partnership, Carey also pointed to a shared interest in sustainability. From Stratasys’ side, this interest has manifested in SAF’s PA11 launch material, a bio-based plastic made from sustainable castor oil, while DyeMansion is using its eco-friendly VaporFuse Eco Fluid solvent within the vapour smoothing process.

The architecture is set to be deployed inside Stratasys Direct, one of the biggest 3D printing service providers in the U.S., later this year with the intent to provide real data and on-site tours of the factory concept. As part of a joint go-to-market strategy, Stratasys is introducing DyeMansion to its reseller channel with the goal, Carey adds, of providing customers with “the complete package.” Those attending the AMUG Conference in Orlando, Florida this week will be able to get a first look and feel at parts produced via this new partnership and learn more in a presentation from Tim Heller, Commercial Leader for H-Series products at Stratasys, and Michael Schorr, Head of Application Consulting at DyeMansion North America.

This alliance could be just the beginning for the partners as they’re said to be planning on advancing the reference architecture with new updates and application-specific solutions. However, Ewald and Carey also suggested there could be scope for further collaboration across other technologies.

Sharing just a hint at what that potential may look like, especially as those high-volume, consumer-facing applications expand, Carey added: “We’re working on other technologies because dyeing and vapour smoothing is relevant as we get more parts in places that people would interact with them.”

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