3D printing can do for short runs and custom products what mass production has done for generations for long runs of standardized items, but until now a technical problem has hindered its rollout on a universal scale. Simply put, 3D parts are not as strong as conventionally formed parts.
This is the problem that UCD spinout Infraprint has addressed and solved with its Traam (thermal radiation-assisted additive manufacturing) technology, which can print parts at nearly twice the strength of existing 3D systems.
“This technology will fundamentally disrupt the manufacturing world and the world is adopting 3D printing technology at a dizzying rate,” says Dr. Andrew Dickson, co-founder of Infraprint. “In 2021, a record two million 3D printing machines were shipped worldwide, but despite this large growth, there are still major technical challenges related to power.
“What this means in practice is that these parts are more likely to break down in use and this has relegated their use to non-critical areas. With our system it is possible to use any thermoplastic material to print complex parts with the power to get the job done, enabling companies to produce lightweight, custom, high-strength parts in both a cost-effective and time-saving manner.”
Dickson points out that existing industrial 3D printing systems are very expensive, limiting their use to high-end products. In contrast, Infraprint’s technology will operate at a much lower cost of between €30,000 and €40,000 per unit, depending on specification, while also lower maintenance, more energy efficient and desktop-sized unlike existing 3D printers that are large and require a lot of space.
“Through our years of research work with different companies in different industries, we knew that the desire was the same: the transition from traditional manufacturing to 3D or additive manufacturing to reduce material waste, speed up production and reduce reliance on complex supply chains because 3D enables local production possible,” says Dickson. “However, because current polymer 3D systems produce parts with inferior mechanical properties for injection molding and milling, this has made it difficult for companies to successfully transition.
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“To solve the problem, we combined the materials knowledge of our founding team, including Prof. Denis Dowling, director of the Euro 1-Form Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, to develop new IP and create a go-to platform for companies to have their products produced using additive manufacturing for one-off items or for batches with strengths similar to those of established technologies.
Infraprint launched its first pilot projects with a number of potential customers in February and currently produces components from Nova UCD. For now, the company offers printing as a service, but the longer-term plan is to run hardware sales and service printing side by side.
Infraprint’s first customers include aerospace suppliers, manufacturers of space components and the energy sector. However, the technology also has applications in the production of medical devices and the pharmaceutical sector and in an unexpected niche: therapeutic aids for top athletes.
Investment in the start-up over the last two years has been around €500,000 between research funding and commercialization and pre-seed support from Enterprise Ireland. The company is now ready for investors and aims to raise €1.5 million.
Infraprint is in the process of hiring a commercial leader and Dickson, who currently serves as both CEO and CTO, expects to have five people on board by the end of the summer.
“Our biggest competition is tradition and specifically established manufacturers using the injection molding and milling technologies that have dominated the market for the past 50 years or more,” he says. “We aim to use the flexibility and efficiency of 3D printing technologies to be more flexible and outperform the competition, with a focus on producing high-quality components in low volumes.”