Weerg, an Italian web platform that primarily supplies 5-axis CNC machined parts to clients, has recently been drawn to 3D printing technologies and one 3D printing technology in particular. Recently, the Marghera-based company announced it had doubled its fleet of HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers (for a total of six machines) and now boasts one of the largest installations of HP Jet Fusion 4210 systems in the world.
Intrigued by the company’s apparent interest in HP’s 3D printing platform—Weerg currently only uses HP machines for its 3D printing services—we spoke to the company’s founder Matteo Rigamonti about how the company sees additive manufacturing as fitting in to its online part manufacturing platform.
“Weerg started operations in early 2016 with the idea of simplifying the process for manufacturing products for companies, research centres and other clients. Our inspiration came from personal experiences I’ve had in ordering and having mechanical parts produced. It is a very complicated procedure in the sense that you have to ask the supplier for an estimate, wait a few days to even hear the estimate, and then you have to wait for delivery times, etc.”
“Having gone through this, I eventually asked myself: is it not possible to do something online, where you upload the 3D model and immediately have the price and delivery date quoted?”
It turns out it is possible, as that is exactly what Weerg has based its production service on. Despite the simplicity of the company’s online interface, however—where you input your 3D file for production and receive an instant quote—it was apparently quite complex to establish the instant quote feature.
“The technological base of this online platform is enormously complicated,” Rigamonti tells us. “However, through successive steps and successive version of the software we managed to get a result that no one else in the world had obtained, which is transforming something that required two weeks of discussions and negotiations into something that takes two net seconds. One simply uploads the 3D file and instantly has the price and chooses the delivery date.”
In terms of its CNC machining capabilities, Weerg operates a fleet of 10 Hermle C42Us with 5 continuous axes for CNC machining of which it is understandably proud. But this hasn’t meant that the company has turned a blind eye to additive manufacturing technologies.
“I’ve always been fond of 3D printing,” says Rigamonti. “But I did not think that it was possible to make a profit with this type of technology because of its speed, costs, etc. When the HP machines came out, they changed the paradigm of 3D printing a bit. We bought the first one in Italy and after a month we ordered two more. Now, we have just bought another three.”
As a relative newcomer to the additive manufacturing industry, HP gained a ton of attention for the release of its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology, which promised to 3D print at 10 times the speed and half the cost of competing (SLS) machines. Now that it’s been a couple of years since the technology’s initial release, the interest in HP’s platform has not shown signs of abating.
Aside from Weerg, AM service Sculpteo has recognized the huge potential of the technology (it now operates the biggest HP 3D printing factory in France) and companies around the globe are adopting HP’s MJF systems.
For Weerg, it was the cost of HP’s 3D printing production that was the main draw, as the company recognized its applications in industrial-scale 3D production environments. Another important factor in choosing HP was its ease-of-use.
“The procedure regarding the workflow of HP 3D printing is much simpler than CNC machining. CNC requires hugely superior investment and more complex organization. HP’s machines are simpler, parts come off the printer and just need to be brushed—you don’t need specific skills like you do for CNC machining.”
Still, Rigamonti emphasizes that the 3D printers in his factory are still complementary to the machining systems, not least because of the technology’s material limitations. When we asked if Weerg would consider investing in metal AM systems to replace the CNC machines, he is apprehensive, citing the extra post-processing steps still required for metal AM.
“With regard to metal AM, we are at a similar place to 3D printing before HP’s machines came out. I have no intention of having to remove the supports for metal 3D prints, for instance. Metal AM is not at the same “launch and forget” stage that HP 3D printing is yet.”
Currently, Weerg serves a range of customers with its instant quote manufacturing service, though Rigamonti emphasizes that there are no precise industrial segments that its clients come from.
“A large part of our client base are actually companies like ours that might not, for example, have 5 axis systems or are late with deliveries. Then there are design offices of companies that make machines and come to us to get the pieces and international research centres (both public and from the business sector. We also work with a small percentage of amateurs on DIY projects.”
In terms of its additive manufacturing capacity, Weerg is leveraging its six HP machines for large batch runs of small precision parts. The technology, explains Rigamonti, enables them to turns out parts at much faster rates than by using more traditional injection molding.
“There are three elements to consider: the production capacity of the machines and the costs and production times. Today, we can quickly manufacture 3,000 units of a gear for a small-toothed wheel, something which would take a long time using injection molding,” says Rigamonti.
“There is also the challenge that HP’s 3D printing materials are still very limited,” he adds. “Fortunately, at this stage, because people need the piece, they do not care what colour or material it is. We do also recognize that PA12, which we use, is still a very widely used material. Obviously, if we had a transparent or rubber material it would be much better, but at the moment it’s OK.”
In addition to increasing its fleet of HP 3D printers, Weerg is also preparing to move into a larger facility, ten kilometres from its current Marghera location in the province of Venice. Rigamonti adds that the company’s growth is promising, stating that it had a turnover ten times greater in 2017 than it did in 2016.