CloudDDM (direct digital manufacturing) recently announced the opening of a full-service additive manufacturing factory inside UPS’ worldwide supply chain solutions campus in Louisville, Ky.
A leader in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it’s more commonly known, CloudDDM is currently operating 100 high-tech 3D printers running 24 hours, 7 days a week in the Louisville campus. CloudDDM’s founder, entrepreneur Mitch Free said just three employees: one for each of the eight-hour shifts, can oversee the entire operation. UPS handles packaging and shipping of parts and prototypes created using CloudDDM. Free said the facility can turn around orders that typically take a week to complete in 24 hours.
“We offer a strong value proposition to design teams who need to iterate quickly, those who produce products in low volume, those who want to customize products on demand as well as the spare parts replacement market,” Free said. “Our customers require high-quality parts with structural integrity, the consumer-grade 3D printers would not be adequate for their needs. Further, our customers trust us to make sure their proprietary data and the details of their next generation product are secure.”
Using CloudDDM allows designers, engineers, and companies to leverage the benefits of industrial additive manufacturing, while reducing upfront production costs, managing stock and inventory, and accelerating product development.
UPS has taken a minority stake in CloudDDM through the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund and Free has invested over $1 million of his own money in the Louisville campus.
Free said the company is starting with printers for plastics but will add metal, or direct metal laser sintering as it’s known in the industry, quickly as they ramp the facility up. He also said CloudDDM is currently accepting STL files, the closest thing there is to a standard among 3D printing file formats, but adding solid modeling and other formats in the following months.
“Within a couple of months we will be accepting solid models,” Free said. “Solid models are a lot smarter than STL files. The industry has opted towards STL files because it’s the easy route, but it’s not the best for the customer. We are laser-focused on customer experience and giving them the tools to be more productive.”
Free said CloudDDM is looking for any customer that wants to design great products but might not be as interested in investing heavily in industrial 3D printing/additive manufacturing technology.
The aerospace applications have already been widely reported here at MetalMiner. Manufactured metal parts made from titanium, inconel and stainless steel are already being used by companies such as Boeing and GE.
“Weight is a big deal in aerospace and by producing additively we are able to make parts that are much lighter than parts made by machining or casting,” Free said. “The reason is we can print geometries that can’t be made any other way, for example a part will a ribbed interior as opposed to be solid.”
The logistics agreement with UPS is another advantage for CloudDDM.
“CloudDDM can ship parts within 24 hours it’s just about as fast as if you had your own 3Dprinter, but without the hassle,” Free said. “I think there in an analogy from the printing industry that could apply. Everyone has a high-quality color printer in their office today, but when you want you corporate brochure or annual report printed, you outsource that to someone with the right equipment for the job.”
While it makes sense to have an inkjet printer in your office to proof your design, it wouldn’t make sense to have a Heidelberg press in your office, Free said.
“Most product companies will have a few 3D printers in-house for rough concept models, but for scale and higher quality they will outsource it,” Free said. “Our printers are purpose-built and not commercially available. They are higher quality and more efficient than anything we have seen on the market. Of course, we will only improve on them from here.”