Back in 2015, Mimaki announced that it would develop a 3D printer and earlier this year the company made good on this promise, demonstrating a preproduction version of the Mimaki 3DUJ-P at a number of events including the Fespa Hamburg show.
The really interesting aspect of this is that it uses a form of UV-curable ink to create the 3D objects. The ink cures layer by layer to form an acrylic resin modelling material. The printer also lays down a dissolvable resin to support the object, which is also cured by UV light. The UV lightsource is an LED lamp, which means that there’s no heat to worry about and little in the way of energy costs. Mimaki says the LED will last for over 10,000 hours.
There are eight separate printheads, with two being used for the support resin, one for white, one for clear and the remaining for CMYK inks. The heads are from Toshiba. The print heads use variable dot control, which delivers fairly detailed objects. The heads themselves use ink recirculation to help prevent nozzle blocking and there’s a system to detect and recover blocked nozzles.
It has a build area of 500 x 500 x 300mm but it’s not the fastest machine that I’ve come across. Mimaki showed off small model dragons, measuring roughly 200mmx 85mm and 40mm high. The chamber can print five of these side by side but Mimaki quoted 10 hours in the standard print mode. There’s a choice of High Definition, Standard and High Speed modes to balance print quality against time taken.
It prints in six colours – CMYK plus white and clear – so that the objects have the full colour gamut that we would normally associate with a UV printer with over 10 million colours. This is a distinct selling point over the majority of 3D printers, most of which use just the single colour of the material they are printing. Some 3D devices do have colour, but the Mimaki machine appears to have much brighter, more vivid colours. Mimaki claims that it can reproduce 84 percent of the Fogra 39L colour gamut. This in turn means that objects can be colour matched to reproduce the colurs from a design file much more faithfully than those printers that produce plaster objects.
Once the object is printed, the support can be dissolved in a water wash and the UV object peeled away. There’s no need for any further cleaning or polishing. The objects are solid enough that you can insert screws to them without risk of breaking them.
Mimaki has also developed its own software to go with this printer. There are two separate programs. The first is the model layout software that is used to position the object on the bed. It can be used to enlarge the object or to change the colours, or to set a glossy or matte effect. Anco Garsten, technical support for Mimaki, says: “You can optimise the layout for the support and we can calculate how long it will take to print.” Once this is done the job is sent to the second program, which is really more of a machine driver, responsible for the actual printing as well as the overall maintenance of the machine.
Ronald van den Broek, general manager for Mimaki Europe, says that fits with the rest of Mimaki’s portfolio: “We have been working with UV technologies for many years now. We have three business units – signs, textiles and industrial products. These are all inter-connected.” He says that it can be used to add more dimensions to sign graphics and even production of items such as buttons. But the main market is clearly prototyping, particularly for architecture and designers making samples where the hope is that the wider colour gamut will give it an edge.
Mimaki has developed a successful range of industrial printers, including textile printers, alongside its display graphics printers so a 3D printer should complement this nicely and cement the company’s growing focus on industrial printing. But the 3D printing market is more challenging than these other markets. If Mimaki is to flourish in this venture then it will need to develop a whole range of 3D printers.
The prototyping market is the low hanging fruit of industrial 3D printing, but there are a lot of existing options. As the 3D print world morphs into additive manufacturing new players will have to demonstrate their ability to cope with parts manufacturing or risk being left behind. This in turn means the ability to handle multiple materials rather than just millions of colours.
Clearly Mimaki’s first priority is managing the commercial launch of the machine later this year – probably around the time of the Formnext show when we should also get some idea of the costs involved. But ultimately success in the 3D market will depend on having a roadmap for navigating this sector with a range of products. That said, Mimaki has a good track record and I’m looking forward to seeing where the company goes with this.