Reprint of The Oakland Press
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013
By NICOLE BEATTIE of Automation Alley
An old, rundown building in downtown Pontiac that once sat vacant is being renovated and was bustling with life earlier this month, as DASI Solutions employees scurried in carrying boxes, dusting off desktops and plugging in computers.
The building is situated kitty-corner to the new Lafayette Place Lofts development — which includes lofts, a market, a deli and a café — and is part of the transformation taking place inside the Woodward Avenue loop.
“Today is moving day,” said David Darbyshire, owner of DASI Solutions, LLC, a local company that not only specializes in the sale of 3-D printers and 3-D printing software, but also provides support and training for this emerging technology that’s growing in popularity.
Darbyshire plans to move about 15 of his 35 employees from Orchard Lake Road in Pontiac and other off-site locations to the new facility, which will serve as office space and a 3-D printing showroom.
3-D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional object of virtually any shape from a digital model, and is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.
This groundbreaking technology is used for both prototyping and limited distributed manufacturing. In recent years, 3-D printing has gone from a science fiction pipe dream to the mainstream, and is used every day by hobbyists and manufacturing companies alike.
Darbyshire said the sky is the limit for 3-D printing applications. “As the cost of 3-D printers decreases and the economy improves, more companies are warming up to the idea of using 3-D printing,” he said, standing in his showroom next to a display case filled with intricately shaped 3-D printed objects.
Industries using the technology include jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering, construction, automotive, aerospace, dental, medical, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering and many others.
“We’ve landed GM, Ford, Chrysler, Stryker Medical, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and several universities around the state, to name a few,” Darbyshire said. “But 3-D printing is now having the most impact on entrepreneurs.”
Darbyshire said at one time, only major companies had access to rapid prototype 3-D printing because they were the only ones that could afford the equipment. Now, DASI sells 3-D printers that range in price from the desktop Mojo printer for $9,900 to the high-end Fortus 900mc for $380,000.
“Today, the mainstream has easy access to 3-D CAD modeling data, like the SolidWorks software we sell. People can send their designs to a 3-D printer and get a part in their hands,” Darbyshire said, adding that not only is the equipment a lot less expensive today, but it’s also more versatile in what it can produce. More importantly, there are more service bureaus popping up that allow entrepreneurs and inventors to print objects on demand, without having to purchase the equipment.
3-D printing also saves time. Consider DASI customer Dart Container, maker of Solo Cups. Instead of creating a cup mold out of metal, which would have taken weeks, DASI 3-D printed the mold out of plastic in only a few hours.
“We were able to give them different versions of the mold for the next-generation drinking cup,” Darbyshire said.
In addition, 3-D printing is sparking innovation.
“There is a lot of innovation going on with the dental market, which we are targeting, hardcore,” Darbyshire said. “By taking 3-D scans of people’s bodies, we can create 3-D printed surgical tools for doing oral surgeries. There are other technologies coming down the pipe that will allow you to print bone scaffolding that the surgeon would insert. Your body would grow natural bone around the scaffolding.”
Darbyshire said advancements like these will only increase as more material options become available. Currently, the Stratasys 3-D printers DASI sells can print in more than 150 material types. The material cost for the Stratasys technology is about $5 per cubic inch, depending on the specific material type. Most models that are printed range in price from $150 to $1,200, depending on material selection and application characteristics.
“We guide customers through different material properties and engineering applications, and showcase what other people have done in the past to allow our customers to become creative and innovative with how they want to tackle the problem that they have,” Darbyshire said.