Best set of dentures in the world could carry 'Printed in Belgium' label

23rd May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Next week sees the opening of Dutch businessman Bram de Swart’s Antwerp branch of 3D Hub, a network of 3D printers where customers can have basic designs printed in plastic that range from an iPhone cover to a bracelet or vase. They simply send their design to the website and then the linked printers carry out the orders after receiving a payment. According to fans of the technique, this is the birth of a new way of doing things. Belgian 3D veteran Mario Fleurinck does however warn against high expectations, saying: “I will not have anything made on this type of machine that carries a safety risk.” As director of Melotte Direct Digital Manufacturing with its years of experience in three-dimensional printing he should speak with authority as his company, based in the Limburg Zondhoven, has carved an international name for itself as manufacturer of specialized products commissioned by customers such as aircraft maker Boeing, chemical giant DuPont, arms manufacturer FN Herstal and chip machine manufacturer ASML. Fleurinck is nevertheless in favour of enterprising initiatives like 3D Hub as he believes in the future of this manufacturing technique. Last month De Swart launched a similar network for basic products in the Netherlands. Launching these printers in Antwerp and Amsterdam are only the first steps towards popularizing the technique and De Swart and his 3D start-up company 3D Hub is a veritable hub of treasures waiting to be unlocked in European cities. Hubs in other European cities are ready to become operational once there are enough print owners who have approached De Swart. This will result in increased production in Europe without the damaging effects on the environment often caused by large-scale production in far-off countries like China. This innovation marks the gradual rise of a ‘blue economy’, as Fleurinck brands this new technique which prides itself in the minimal waste of raw materials. A qualified engineer, Fleurinck himself boasts a background in the American aerospace industry. Computer-driven three-dimensional printing makes it possible to create objects without the old-fashioned use of drilling, cutting or lathes which require lots of materials, energy and cooling water. One industry that benefits immensely from these new techniques is the medical industry with its custom-made 3D printed heart valves, bone and tooth protheses. Fleurinck recently presented a tooth prostethesis with metal-based printed castings that could possibly serve as the best set of dentures in the world, and he hopes it will win him the prestigious international Energy Globe Award next week. Melotte currently manufactures 70 000 components at his lab in Zonhoven each year. There is a staff of 60 who work mostly on the development of new applications for a variety of industry sectors. The new products that will hit the market in the next decades will create employment opportunities in Belgium and Europe, says Fleurinck. “In fifteen years’ time you will be able to have quite a few things made just around the corner.”

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