Two years ago, Smarter Communication Magazine published an article about how 3D printers were changing the world. Back then, there were 3D printers all over the US, where companies and organizations were quickly learning to benefit from the technology. In the Nordic region however, 3D printing had not really caught on – yet. The revolution is now picking up pace on this side of the Atlantic, too.
Tomas Lundström, Solutions Manager 3D at PostNord Strålfors, thinks the reason why it has taken so long in the Nordic region largely has to do with fears and uncertainties regarding security.
“A lot of people are unwilling to send in design files if there is a risk of them falling into the wrong hands,” he says.
Another key barrier has been “knowledge thresholds.” Up until now, users needed to be familiar with both CAD programming and material properties in order to have a product printed, and only a small number of printing houses could physically handle the orders.
New service makes 3D printing simple
To overcome these obstacles, PostNord Strålfors launched its new service – 3D Solutions – at the start of summer this year. The solution features a cloud-based portal that allows anyone at all to order a 3D print – without any previous knowledge. It is just a simple as making purchases from a standard webshop.
“We’ve gathered all aspects of 3D printing together under one roof. We step in as a reliable partner who takes responsibility for all aspects of the process, which means customers don’t have to deal with several suppliers. You can order all kinds of products in a single place – even in certified materials that can be used in machines, for example, or in medico-technical products.”
At the same time, the level of security is so high that users never need worry about their data.
“All the data in the portal are encrypted to keep them safe from unauthorized parties. This is how we make sure that customers maintain complete control of their data. Not even PostNord Strålfors staff have access to the customer’s information unless a customer actively invites us in to help with a project.”
The technological capacity provided by 3D printers opens up completely new opportunities that are simply not possible through conventional shaping and molding. For example, the 3D printer PostNord Strålfors has at its Rosersberg branch just north of Stockholm can print in six different materials. These can be mixed in different ratios at drop level – i.e. per “voxel,” which is the 3D equivalent of a pixel. This makes it possible to work with a total of 360,000 different characters in the physical properties of the material. For instance, it allows the user to print in a finely graded range of hardness, from soft as rubber at one end to hard as rock at the other.
3D printers can also print complex geometries that are difficult to create via conventional casting processes, and they can be used to print completely transparent objects and to apply a smooth or matte finish. It is also possible to print products that have moving parts in a single operation, such as a screw-top or glasses with movable sidepieces.
Moreover, 3D printing is much quicker and cheaper than conventional molding. Creating a molded object is a time-consuming process that can cost thousands of euros. In practice, this makes it impossible to work with small batches – let alone individual items. 3D printing changes all that.
“3D printing allows you to rework your design and test it repeatedly without coming anywhere near what a single molding operation would cost,” explains Tomas Lundström.
Opens the door to a host of prototypes
All the technological properties inherent in 3D printers open the door to a whole new range of opportunities for businesses and organizations. TADA Medical is one of PostNord Strålfors’ customers. The company is working to develop a mouthpiece designed to cool down the oral cavity in cancer patients while they are receiving chemotherapy, thus reducing the risk of wounds and blisters, which are common side effects. With the assistance of 3D Solutions, TADA Medical has printed several different versions of the mouthpiece, making it possible to run a series of tests to establish which version works best.
Strong sales support
“For us, the ability to produce cheap prototypes is pure gold. We need physical products to run our tests and to access good feedback during demonstrations. 3D printing is fast and much cheaper than molding, which is, of course, a real benefit for any startup operating on a limited budget,” comments Rebecca Bejhed, CTO at TADA Medical.
Another PostNord Strålfors customer is Glenair Nordic. This company uses the solution to print customized products to use as support during sales meetings.
“3D printers provide sales support that we can use to communicate our thoughts and ideas about the solution to a given problem.” This makes it much easier for them to visualize and get a sense of what the end product will look like. At the end of the day, it means a much better discussion with the customer, which really helps us in the sales process,” says Filip Sandberg, Technical Sales Manager at Glenair Nordic.
The only limit is the imagination
PostNord Strålfors has even printed out skeleton X-rays that help doctors plan operations. Other customers print images of themselves as superheroes with their own logo displayed proudly on their chest.
“Today, the only limit to what you can use 3D technology for is your imagination,” says Tomas Lundström.
PostNord Strålfors is planning to install 3D printers throughout the Nordic region in all the PostNord Group’s existing locations.
“Local production close to consumers will enable us to deliver even faster, and shorter transport routes are better for the environment.”
At the same time, the company is refining the ordering system to make it even more efficient.
“We’re working to implement machine learning so that the system optimizes all orders itself and chooses to print in the most suitable location. People won’t have to wait as long as a lot of them think for this to become reality.”