In this conversation between Make Parts Fast’s Site Editor, Leslie Langnau, and the Rapid Prototyping Lab Manager of Reebok, Gary Rabinovitz, the abilities of 3D printing are discussed, as well as its weaknesses.
I suggest you listen to it, but here are the highlights:
Reebok has been using 3D printing since 1997 when it was decided that prototyping needed to happen at a faster pace, and that it also needed to be outsourced less. All the CAD was happening internally, but the actual production of prototypes was being sent out of house. After acquiring a DTM Selective Laser Sintering printer, everything changed. All prototyping shifted to that machine, which Reebok still has. Obviously it became overloaded with work, so a Z Corp (recently acquired by 3D Systems) printer was purchased to split the load. Having all prototyping done in-house saved Reebok a lot of time, which soon had a positive effect on their bottom line, as their products got to market faster.
Another big shift was when Z Corp released full-color 3D printing. That allowed for much quicker and clearer communication with manufacturers, who could then more instantly say whether or not they could produce the object. It also removed the step of painting, which is time consuming and costly.
Reebok now has two Z Corp printers running some 18 hours a day, 5 days a week, as well as an Objet (recently merged with Stratasys) printer running as needed. The printers are so precise that pieces that come out of the Z Corp printers can be combined with pieces that come from the Objet. According to Gary, the only limitation is that flexible full-color objects are still not possible, but both Z Corp and Objet are working on that. He’s also concerned with rising material costs, and money shifting from R&D to getting personal 3D printers on the market.
It’s an interesting 10 minutes though, so have a listen yourself.