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3D’s Place in Commercial Printing

(July 2016) posted on Tue Jul 19, 2016

An interview with VDMA's Rainer Gebhardt.

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By Steve Duccilli

Visitors to drupa’s Innovation Park were surprised to see a collection of realistic seashells ranging in size from a half inch to more than 5 feet tall, all 3D printed in a variety of materials ranging from plastic to metal. The unusual display of mollusks (which, as it happens, are known by the appropriate scientific name drupa ricinus) was organized by the Additive Manufacturing Association, a subgroup of VDMA, a German federation for mechanical engineers). The initiative, which now includes about 120 of VDMA’s 3100-plus members, is headed up by Rainer Gebhardt, an engineer who spent 22 years with manroland designing offset printing equipment. We sat down with Gebhardt to discuss the unusual display and the developing role of this technology in the commercial printing industry.

BP: What do you hope to accomplish this week at drupa?

Gebhardt: In Germany, everybody speaks about 3D printing, but we really want to differentiate it and call it additive manufacturing. Our aim is progress for industrial applications and the professional use of 3D printing. The maker market is interesting, and we have to watch it, but our main focus is industrial application and mechanical engineering. We’re not focused on one process or one material, but open to all of the different 3D technologies that exist. I think each has its place and everybody should think about which is right for their application.

So [the mollusk project at drupa] is really an eye-catcher. What we want to communicate here is that 3D is good for marketing, of course, but also to produce parts in a printing machine or things in the press room. And to help convey the completely new and amazing possibilities for [printing] parts that were not possible before. You have to find these special cases because 3D printing is not, in my opinion, the way to produce everything. It’s for special applications.

BP: Is it somewhat contradictory to be drawing a distinction between manufacturing and printing for this technology here – inside the world’s largest printing exposition?