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The Path to Evolution

(December/January 2018) posted on Tue Feb 05, 2019

The secret to being more successful five years from now than you are today? Accepting that your company will not, and cannot, be the same.

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By Steve Duccilli

Now 74, Miller is in the midst of his most daring journey yet – repositioning Pictographics as a 3D printing specialist. “When people tell me I was smart to get into 3D printing, I tell them I didn’t do it out of ambition,” Miller says. “I did it out of abject fear.” He believes wide-format inkjet technology has evolved to the point where there are too few differentiators for print providers to carve defensible niches. “You’ve got speed, you’ve got image quality, you’ve got color gamut, you’ve got durability – you’ve got all of these features” irrespective of the printer brand, he says. “But to be honest, ‘faster/better/cheaper’ is part of the formula for marginalizing the industry and commoditizing the product.” He reasoned that advancements in 3D printing, which had been limited to hobbyist and prototype work until recently, could open up entirely new industries for the company to pursue. 

Pictographics’ first 3D printer acquisitions were designed to extend the range of the company’s traditional work: the Massivit 1800 3D because of its size and the Mimaki 3DUJ-533 because of its near-unlimited color capabilities. But the long-term plan extends far beyond the graphic arts. “The real money is in additive manufacturing,” Miller says. “It takes us out of a multibillion-dollar market for 3D printing and puts us into a $12-trillion manufacturing market.” By eliminating the tooling and minimum quantities common in traditional manufacturing, 3D printing now presents a realistic alternative with distinct advantages. The tooling costs and minimum quantities associated with injection molding and other processes are eliminated, along with the inventories and middleman suppliers that drive up costs. And 3D printing can now produce exceptionally intricate parts from a wide range of structural materials.

To that end, Pictographics already has an HP Multi Jet Fusion 4200, said to be ten times faster than earlier 3D technologies with a lower consumables cost. Miller says he produced 1000 parts in a 10-hour stretch earlier this year. He hopes to have a dozen of the units by mid-2019, giving him the ability to print about 15,000 parts per day. He also has a MarkForged X7 unit, which prints with continuous strand carbon fiber, Kevlar, and fiberglass, and he expects to have two metal printers installed soon. Miller believes he’s offering the most diverse range of capabilities of any 3D print provider.


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