When the Italian company JDeal-Form (Oleggio, Italy) started using additive manufacturing to apply a micronized polymer coating to the underwire tips and bra straps it sold to brassiere makers, CTO Davide Ardizzoia grew frustrated with his AM vendor’s constant lateness. Ardizzoia, a textile engineer, searched for but couldn’t find an affordable industrial-grade 3D printer for his factory, so he designed and manufactured his own machine to bring the polymer coating operation in-house, he explained via email.
Ardizzoia applied his knowledge of the fine motion control on the machinery he and his father, Jose Ardizzoia, invented to make bra components and women’s swimwear to his printer, which took almost a year to design, prototype and build. He named the printer 3ntr and sold it in Europe for two years before entering the US market in 2016.
“They’re an amazing engineering company,” said Ed Israel, president of integrator Plural AM (Lake Oswego, OR), 3ntr’s exclusive North American distributor.
The 3ntr, which has three nozzles capable of reaching 662oF (350oC) on the standard version and 842oF (450oC) on the ultra-high temperature model, can print any off-the-shelf thermoplastic polymer and an elastomer in the same build. Some applications made possible by 3ntr’s multiple nozzles include a soft gasket on a part made of a hard material, two different durometers of the same rubber on a custom bicycle seat, or a living hinge for a computer tablet case.
One customer had looked more than two years for a solution to prototype a ribbon cable assembly for an electronic component. The 3ntr fills niches for other customers as well.
“We were looking to fill the void in the marketplace between the expensive OEM-captive material printers and the hobby and desktop printers,” Israel said. “We found this company, and they were kind of quietly killing it in Europe.”
In addition to its technology, 3ntr’s use of off-the-shelf material and its pricing—which he declined to name—make it ideal for low-volume production, said Israel.
“It’s not any great new technology that blows the world away, it’s the combination of open, engineering-grade thermoplastics at market prices and the printer at a price that is disruptively innovative,” he said. “Some world-leading printers have their own materials and are too expensive [for] true additive manufacturing. They’re more suited, from a price standpoint, to prototyping.”
But there’s more than just the freedom to use open materials. “The power of the slicer [software] enables you to produce prototypes at end-production quality so that you can almost move to a first article from a prototype. The precision of our system gives us the ability to make the decision whether you would want to move to end-production with that material,” Israel said.
Now that Davide Ardizzoia is manufacturing an industrial-grade additive manufacturing machine that’s selling on two continents, will he still make underwires and other bra components?
“Now we are ceasing this production in favor of 3D printers,” the CTO wrote.