There is plenty of excitement about the potential for additive manufacturing (3D printing) as the technology is reshaping the way products are designed and produced. However, Mitch Free, cofounder and CEO of the newly launched CloudDDM in Atlanta, believes a new approach to additive manufacturing is required in order for the technology to reach its full potential.
“I realized there were two needs for high-quality end-use parts in the market that were not being addressed by additive manufacturing service providers,” he told Plastics Technology. “The first is speed. Whether a customer needs a prototype or a 3D-printed jig or fixture, the faster they can receive it, they faster they can move their project along. As the old adage goes, ‘time is money’ for our customers and we are sensitive to that.”
The second need is scale: “There is a no-man’s land between prototyping and enough volume to justify building tools for molding,” adds Free. “CloudDDM has enough capacity to produce a lot of parts quickly to meet the demands of an OEM with a low-volume or niche product.”
His answer is to let users upload digital files via the Internet to CloudDDM’s additive manufacturing facility, where the parts are printed out and then shipped to the customer. The facility is located on the UPS Supply Chain Campus in Louisville, Ky. UPS has also taken a minority stake in CloudDDM. The CloudDDM facility has 100 3D printers running 24/7. Free says these are customized machines that are not commercially available. CloudDDM can produce parts using such materials as ABS, PC, PC/ABS, and PEI.
“Our systems are almost entirely automated, from the time a user uploads a digital model, through production, to packaging and shipment,” he notes. “Direct digital manufacturing (DDM) allows us to be incredibly efficient and produce parts in large volumes at prices competitive with traditional manufacturing methods.” Stratos Aircraft, Flextronics, and Devon Works are already customers of CloudDDM. “Our customers require parts with structural integrity, as the consumer-grade 3D printers would not be adequate for their needs,” Free states. “Further, our customers trust us to make sure their proprietary data and details of their products are secure.”