Materialise is a company based in Leuven, Belgium, specialising in 3D printing – a modern printing technology where 3D designs produced on computers are translated into real objects. The fast, efficient and flexible process is mainly used for the production of prototypes. Also called “rapid prototyping”, this process is especially interesting for the automotive industry. Materialise uses Standox products to paint many of the printed objects.
Before a prototype is mass-produced it must be thoroughly tested. Early prototypes allow designers to see whether the design or function of the object needs to be altered. Rapid prototyping offers many advantages in the production of these samples. The prototypes can be produced very quickly and complex shapes are not a problem. Jurgen Laudus, Director AMS at Materialise, explains: “A software programme first divides the computer-programmed 3D object into ultrathin layers. These are then printed by a special printer, layer by layer – not with ink, as is the case with a conventional printer, but with plastics or metals, for example. This means that moulds, which could limit the designer’s creativity, are not required.”
Materialise produces more than 200,000 prototypes per year, and most of the orders come from the automotive industry. “The development of new car models is a very complex, lengthy process, and production must run smoothly and faultlessly,” says Laudus. “To postpone the market launch of a new car model because of a design error is very costly. More importantly, new car models launched with defective functions can cause serious damage to a brand’s image. This is why the production of prototypes is so important in this sector.”
Materialise has used the 3D printing process to produce dashboards, bumpers and entire door leaves for the prototypes of spectacular concept cars such as the Sintesi from Pininfarina.
“We use Standox products because of their quality and flexibility,” says Laudus, “We don’t only use them on vehicle parts. We also coat everyday items with Standox paints, such as storage boxes. And should a customer ask for a special colour we know that we can contact a local Standox distributor and they will mix the colour for us.”