With a few notable exceptions, the additive manufacturing printing industry is still made up of startups and small companies who tend to think small and act smaller. While this idea is at the heart of distributed manufacturing, it hardly fits within the ultimate goal of using 3D printing for true, optimized mass production. So when a small company like FELIXprinters wants to begin to think big and show how it intends to achieve industrialization, we listen. Even if it means taking a plane at 6 am and then a train to attend the company’s Pro L and Pro XL industrial 3D printers official press launch at the company’s offices outside Utrecht (and making it back by dinner time). This is especially true if the people helping to coordinate the launch event are Rachel Park and Chris Young.
We’ve already covered the new systems when they were first announced to the world (find full specs in this article) and seeing up close (and their prints) we can confirm that the quality level and accessibility is significant. The systems are not yet able to print high-temperature polymers but the engineers at FELIXprinters already have a clear idea of how to approach that kind of material support. Even more interesting is how – now that they have consolidated their technology and market through a number of worldwide resellers – they are looking to expand it in new, fascinating directions.
A view of the present…
The first direction is of course industrialization. By this, we mean being able to offer a solid and reliable range of 3D printers along with extensive post-sale support (currently available only in the domestic EU market). This means working closely with resellers on supplying marketing materials as well as providing in-depth technical training. In the Netherlands/Belgium markets, FELIXprinters is also able to offer a 5-year warranty which includes onsite servicing. This all-around approach has brought in high-profile clients such as Tesla (very popular in the Netherlands), the Dutch universities TNO and the University of Twente (among others), large Dutch companies such as Philips and other high-profile multinationals such as Volkswagen, BASF, Mitsubishi and Microsoft.
To date, the company has sold roughly 5,000 printers worldwide (including compact systems such as the FELIX Pro 2 and their earlier series) and established a global network of 40 sale partners between distributors and resellers. This enables FELIXprinters to reach 53 different countries in 6 continents.
To show us how they intend to support this sales structure, the company allowed us to tour their factory floor and assembly line. All 3D printers are currently assembled in-house, including the Pro L and Pro XL systems. This ensures high standards of quality. However, it remains to be seen if the company will truly be able to meet industrialization demand by simply scaling up its operations or will need to resort to outsourcing.
…And a glimpse of the future
Even more interesting is the company’s approach to the future of mass production. FELIXprinters is now officially working with companies on developing large format custom systems tailored to fit their specific production needs. The first such project is in collaboration with a company active in the food market. For this project, FELIXprinters modified the extrusion system to sustain multiple extrusion 3D printers tailored toward food production. Not the small pasta or chocolate printers we have seen around until today but an actual mass production-capable device.
Leveraging a similar pressure-based extrusion technology, FELIXprinters is now also developing a bioprinter. This is something quite fitting considering that Prof Jos Malda’s, leading of the world leading bioprinting research teams, is based at the nearby Utrecht University Hospital. This capability to produce systems that are tailored to the specific needs of industrial adopters is one of the key distinguishing traits of FELIXprinters and is possible because of the expertise of its engineers, including the company’s Founder and Director Guillaume Feliksdal, a former Philips engineer. His vision is to adapt industrial technologies to include both thermoplastic and pressure material extrusion, producing multimaterial products that integrate both silicone-like materials and advanced thermoplastics. This is one of the main goals of additive production and could open up many new opportunities to the first ones that will get there.