3DPRINTUK and Digits2Widgets are two of the historic (well, when it comes to 3D printing, the term “historic” is relative, however times goes fast and a couple of years seem like decades) 3D printing services in London. Both are among the first companies in the world to ride the new wave of B2C (or B2P – business-to-person – to be precise) 3D printing, which exploded in late 2012. To do this, however, they have taken very different approaches.
3DPRINTUK: going after serial AM
3DPRINTUK Founder Nick Allen was one of the first and only persons to understand the potential for serial manufacturing via SLS technology. Today he has optimized the entire SLS production process to the point where 3DPRINTUK can be competitive on batches of several thousand parts and – Nick claims – can be easily compete with HP’s upcoming MultiJet Fusion technology on certain highly detailed components, in both black and white nylon.
Now Nick and his team are ready to move on on up to a much larger headquarters, however we took the opportunity, the last time we were in London, to visit the “historic” office where it all began. Nick warned us that it was going to be messy since they are in the middle of moving everything, however the one thing that clearly showed is that at 3DPRINTUK they really make their 3D printers work. On site they now have two EOSINT 396-grade systems soon to become more.
The reason why 3DPRINTUK can compete on larger batches than most 3D printing services is their unique – and undisclosed – cleaning and post processing phase. Ever since the first 3D Printshow in London, the now 8-strong team (including Flint, the studio dog) was able to show an impressive ability to manufacture large numbers of high quality products in PA12.
Nick set up the company in early 2011, just before the big 3D printing boom. He’s a trained product designer who founded the company to bring a friendly and trustworthy face to the UK 3D printing industry. Having worked with the machinery day in and day out, Nick has developed an unparalleled knowledge of his machines and his industry. This has helped his company to produce batches going from 1 to 10,000 parts and work with huge companies such as Facebook, Disney, Hot Wheels, Bugatti and more.
Digits2Widgets: design first
Although it was founded around the same time and offers many similar services (including small batch manufacturing of several thousand parts), the other historic London-based 3D printing service Digits2Widgets took a more “design-centric” approach to SLS 3D printing.
The company is owned by Cavendish, a large London dental and medical modeling studio that was already deeply familiar with 3D printing technologies. It has been led, from the very beginning, by Jonathan Rowley, a former architect who found that 3D printing offered a much more rapid product development cycle.
Mr Rowley’s experience with architecture and design reflects in the type of parts that the studio has been able to develop and produce over the years, from intricate textures to complex, generative architectural models. Located in a more central area of London, D2W offers SLA resin and full color plaster 3D printing however most of the production is done using two EOS Formiga and a brand new EOSINT 396 system.
While D2W offers a wide range of CAD design and 3D scanning services, along with 3D printing, of of its trademark products is the unique SLS pricing system, which leverages on custom 3D printed nylon containers which makes it simple, fast and affordable for to order small multiple parts, batch orders and production runs.
While they take such different approaches to 3D printing, both of these services do have a few things in common. One is that they are still the only companies offering professional B2P service in London – with no real competition in sight. Both have acquired a knowledge base – especially with the SLS manufacturing process – that will make it hard for newcomers to catch up. The other is that they both seem to be growing significantly, demonstrating once again that 3D printing is far from just hype.