by Martin Stevens, CEO, A1 Technologies

3D technologies have proved to be disruptive within the design, engineering, and manufacturing fields. The advantages that these technologies offer are numerous and well documented — reduced development time, reduced development costs, much faster time-to-market overall, and greater design freedom are just some of the demonstrable benefits when the technologies are integrated well into the manufacturing process.

And herein lies a prerequisite to successful implementation — integration.

Moreover, while it is critical that process integration is achieved, it is just as important to consider the integration of different technologies within the process. Very often, 3D technologies are considered by users to be individual or disparate disciplines.

It is easy to understand why, when they are promoted and sold as separate entities with the promise of great success from using this single technology — to be clear this is true for 3D design, 3D laser scanning, 3D printing, 3D milling and so on.

Yet none of these technologies are able to work in isolation — and they were never intended to do so. They cannot be divorced from the activities required to fulfill them or from one or more other 3D technologies.

They have to be integrated into the workflow processes and with each other. It cannot be overstated that the greatest added value and the best return on investment comes from a holistic approach to product development and creating an integrated system of 3D technologies.

If you take 3D printing as a single discipline, for example, producing a part on a 3D printer is only a small part of the whole process. Designing the part for manufacture and producing the 3D data necessary to do so are of equal importance.

Integration does not happen by itself. Finding the correct combination of 3D technologies for any application that can be integrated with each other and into a company’s way of working is central to successful implementation and subsequently, the results achieved with them.

Furthermore, successful integration is the result of a series of choices to meet a specific need — the application at hand. The applications vary greatly, as does the spectrum of technologies available, but the principle is the same — an holistic approach to 3D technologies and the benefits that they can bring.

It is a principle that I believe in strongly. Without wanting to get too “salesy” it is one of the primary tenets of A1 Technologies and the full range of products supplied — all of which can be fully integrated to each other. It is vital to help users — particularly new users — to fully appreciate 3D technologies and how to integrate them.

For many years I have been party to different individual vendors of 3D technologies, working with some of them, and while their pursuits are valid and in many ways have driven the industry forward, the lack of vision in terms of integration has been stifling. 

If you start at the beginning of any development process involving 3D digital technologies, 3D design data is an essential requirement. As I mentioned in my previous column, designing in 3D is still an exclusive activity and it is often restricted by the dominant design medium, 3D CAD, but there are alternatives. 

Similarly for re-development projects where existing data only exists in 2D, there is a need to create 3D data for it and the easiest way to acquire 3D data for such models is to scan the original and modify or upgrade the resulting 3D model  — reverse engineering — using integrated 3D design software.

Once the 3D digital model has been finalized it has to be produced either by additive or subtractive manufacturing. Without compatible (integrated) software, many layers — excuse the pun — will be added to the development process that can bring frustrations with it, not to mention inaccuracies that translate into an inferior product.

Bringing together a full range of 3D digital products that complement each other and that can be used in conjunction with each other is a primary strategy of A1 Technologies in its bid to prove that high-calibre, integrated advanced 3D technologies are accessible for anyone and everyone. It is a simple message, but an extremely important one, that is often overlooked.

About Martin Stevens & A1 Technologies

Martin Stevens is the CEO of A1 Technologies, an advanced technology company, which he set up jointly with Trupti Patel in early 2009 to bring low cost 3D technologies to as broad a market as possible.  These cutting edge products are sold globally into education, industry and to individuals, with the dedicated remit of changing the way that people think about designing and making in 3D.  Their products meet the needs of education, industry, creatives and hobbyists.

Outside 3D technologies, Martin’s expertise relates primarily to the SME sector, particularly in the fields of manufacturing and education, and his external activities are fully aligned with his professional role. Martin is the Chairman of Made in London, an organisation that supports the needs of the 20,000 manufacturers based in London. He is also currently a Board member of The Mayor’s London Skills and Employment Board and an Employer Champion for the UK Engineering Diploma.