Argentina: The revolution of 3D printers, in full swing
Trimaker is an Argentinian company -one of the pioneers in the development and making of low-cost, high-resolution 3D printers- that aims at being a point of reference within this technological revolution, and that is already changing the making paradigms in the world.
The project was born in the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) almost three years ago, where part of the founding team teaches a subject on entrepreneurship. Maximiliano Bertotto is the engineer who had the original idea, and then Facindo Imas Ananía, Juan Chereminiano, Alex Caprole and Emiliano Chamorro took part in the project as well.
Trimaker decided, from its very beginning, not only to make 3D printers, but also to contribute in the development and commercialization of hardware, software, and other necessary materials in the young Argentinian industry.
Recently, a new and very innovative product came to the market: stereolithography, a B2B-oriented product that very few companies are using around the globe.
A few days ago, Trimaker acquired 3DFab, a company that specializes in FDM printers (Fused Deposition Modelling) and whose aim is to take 3D printing to common people, as well as setting more and new applications for this technology.
Bearing in mind the two focuses of the business – B2B and B2C – Juan Chereminiano explains how far this could go and the revolution that it means for the final consumer and some industries, but more importantly, what is yet to be explored.
You have just launched stereolithography in the market, what was your target with this development?
It is a technology that works with polymer resins that solidify under light projection. It is a very little known, and therefore, very little used technology that aims more at industrial levels than professional usage (B2B). We targeted at this technology in particular because no one else seemed to do it in Latin America. Last September, we started delivering a limited edition of forty two machines. Our idea was to understand what kind of clients would approach this product, and the variables these clients appreciated. On one side, this industry has variables of its own. Some want to print bigger pieces, others focus on precision, others on speed. So the idea was to analyse this limited range of clients and check which industries were meaningful to us in terms of 3D printing. Last December, we delivered our last machine and then we launched an evolution of it: our first model of the Trimaker Black.
And what about final consumer? Is there a market for them in Argentina? Do you also target them?
With the technology that we are about to launch in two weeks – Trimaker Element – we are aiming at the B2C market. It’s a friendlier and more known technology. It’s FDM and, since it’s somehow more popular, the user gives it a try. In February this year, Trimaker acquired another company from Argentina as well, a company whose field was FDM. With this technology, we’re launching a new machine in a month. Trimaker was already planning to get involved in this market and for us it was a decision of shortening terms of investigation and development. On the other side, we wanted to win the market, although we have a much more refined technology, we really wanted to meet those clients looking for this technology.
What kind of industries benefit – or change- with this technology?
We have all kinds of industries as clients; that’s why we’re starting to study them in a vertical way. We want to see how, in the future, we can offer not only a technology that suits the industry, but a service that suits it too. Today we have professional clients such as architects, industrial designers, jewellers, dentists, doctors, auctioneers, and many who take this as a hobby in a more sophisticated level; like people who are into pieces to scale like planes, cars, or toys. In the industry, a very interesting phenomenon is that of the industrial designers. Whatever industry you are in, they are the ones who take the final decision. That has happened to us with many companies, from agro-industry to products for toys. All those decision makers… they are all industrial designers.
And the final user?
We have a lot of people who are self-taught in the matter, or who take this as a hobby, who are already trying this. The difference between one (client) and the other is that B2C (final user clients) prefer FDM, since it’s simpler and cleaner in a way. In stereolithography, we work with resins and use filaments in a roll as if it was a three-millimetre wire that is put in a headrest, but it’s not a tool. You don’t have to take the measures and cares that you have to with the other technology. We see that the kind of clients is really different from one device to the other.
What happens in fields such as medicine or dentistry?
We have an area that specializes in bio-medicine, that is, all that is medicine and dentistry related. Here in Argentina, we are working with the Hospital Italiano, Maimónides, and the Instituto Zaldivar, with many referents in medicine to apply the advantages of 3D printing. We are now working with bio-models taken from tomographies or scanners in certain interventions, in order to make models that allow surgical plannification. We are working in parallel, and this is medium term, with licences of the CONICET (National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigations) to get bio-compatible resins. This means that we wouldn’t just print a model for planning, we would have an implant ready to be placed in the human body. If this technology is bio-compatible, the body wouldn’t reject them. Although this is medium term, we are already talking to institutions in Israel and Brazil because a lot is being done in this field.
Do you think we are, in Argentina, in the first stages of the changing of digital printing and making?
Yes. It is true, though, that we are still in a market that is green, immature. This technology isn’t particularly new -it was born in 1986- and it has become very popular, as anyone with an average computer has what is takes to use it; those are all the commands this requires. And that is precisely the strongest change. We do believe that 3D printing suits best to those who see it as a tool. It is not clear yet what will happen with B2C, because at the end of the day, these might get such a technology at any store. Perhaps within five years we can talk about such a thing.
What aspects are yet to be improved?
There is still a great curve related to the experience of the user. In order to understand how to go from a digital file to a physical file, certain modelling knowledge or interaction with the device is still necessary. There are many solutions that are being thought for this at a mass-level. For instance, very few people buy directly. They usually go the factories and ask for some kind of visit, because they want to see the machine or send (digitally) a file so they see what the physical result is. Based on that, they decide whether to buy or not. It is still a very assisted sale.
What visions do you have for business possibilities in the future?
It is unclear that, within the next five or ten years, the business will be to sell printers. We are evaluating in parallel and testing many business unites. Although we do make the printers, we are also focusing on printing services. We are trying with medicine and education, the making of content for schools and colleges. I think that, since we are talking about breaking a paradigm, it is much deeper than a simple fashion or trend. This is something that is seriously changing the way we do things but is not necessarily the future of printing; it doesn’t have to focus only in selling and buying machines. The impact will be incredibly significant for many industries.
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