3DPRINTUK has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2010. Since starting the company out of his garage in Oxford, with only a single printer, Nick Allen has built his AM service provider into one of the most renowned 3D printing companies in the UK, with a workforce of 18 people.
Based in London, 3DPRINTUK now boasts 9 x EOS FORMIGA P110s, 3 x EOS P396s, and 2 x HP Jet Fusion 5210s, and prints 3,500 to 5,000 parts per day (that’s over 1,000,000 parts per year). Depending on the size of the parts – the P396 printer, alone, can print around 3,000 parts in a single build job. 3DPRINTUK prints primarily for small/medium-sized enterprises and produces mostly industrial-type parts, usually for engineering purposes.
Nick started out with SLS machines but made the move a couple of years ago to include MJF printing in his service offering. Certain parts are more efficient and cost-effective to print with the SLS machines while others are more convenient to print with the MJF machines, but both print ‘basically the same thing’. Therefore, 3DPRINTUK leaves the decision regarding which printer to use completely up to the customer.
As for the company’s position as an AM service provider in the market, 3DPRINTUK “helps people when they need it” by bridging the gap between small-batch manufacturing and mass manufacturing. From movie props, models and figurines, to parts for underwater submarines – 3DPRINTUK prints it all.
We are there for speed, quality, repeatability and reliabilityNick Allen, CEO of 3DPRINTUK
The “hardest part” of all this is not the printing, but the sorting and shipping of the 3,500+ parts every day. To tackle this challenge, the team at 3DPRINTUK has developed a software “for users, by users”. This software offers full traceability of the parts and the stage of the process, not only for the team but for the client too. According to Nick, “This is what separates us from our competitors. We have this system which makes us extremely efficient. I don’t think anyone in the rest of the world has anything as good as this.”
3DPRINTUK used to print mainly prototypes but, over the years, the company has gone from approximately 5% to 80-85% of their printed products being for end-use. The transition from 3D printing for prototyping to the printing of production-level parts is not so much due to the advancement of the printing technology but more due to the users designing for the available technology. As Nick puts it, “one of the machines bought in 2021 makes just as good quality parts as a machine bought back in 2008.”
For me, the most impressive part about 3DPRINTUK is the accessibility of its AM services. Described as “more like a photo processing shop but 3D” – one simply needs to upload the design (in STL format), choose the printer, the material, and the finish, and the checkout option (express for delivery within 2-4 working days and economy for 7-12 working days). Customers’ designs are also stored in their ‘parts library’ – available for re-order. In addition to their ease of use, all designs submitted through the website are protected by an automatic non-disclosure agreement.
As for Nick’s outlook on additive manufacturing technology and the industry – “I look forward to it becoming more mainstream. It’s never going to take over mass production, but it will take over the gap between your original prototype and when you go into production. There are so many products out there that don’t exist because there is no viable way of manufacturing them in low quantities. This [3D printing being more mainstream] would allow products that wouldn’t normally be able to exist, to exist.”