Cristian Foral is a shareholder and Sales Manager at NuTechnologies of Timişoara, which sells professional 3D printers made by Stratasys, 3D professional scanners by Zeiss Steinbichler, SLM (Selective Laser Melting) additive manufacturing equipment by Sisma (Italy), as well as laser systems for cutting, welding, 2D or 3D marking. Besides being a dealer of the above companies, NuTechnologies also supplies services and technical advice in these fields. The interview below was intended to provide our readers with a perspective of how Romanian profes- sionals see additive manufacturing and the development prospects of the internal market.
Interview with Cristian Foral NuTechnologies Sales Manager
T&T: As of this year, NuTechnologies is a Gold partner of Stratasys (USA). But what was the beginning? How hard was it to develop a market in Romania?
Cristian Foral: Our relationship began in 2012, based on the intention of NuTechnologies to develop a cooperation in the 3D professional printing segment. The beginning was difficult from many standpoints:
Generation of a critical level of interest for these technologies on a quite fragmented market segment;
Development of a high level of technical comprehension in order to provide advice and support to prospective customers both for selecting the right equipment or developing the desired applications, and as regards installing, maintenance and training;
Reaching a high level of technical endowment by purchasing own 3D printing, 3D scanning and laser processing equipment. This contributed decisively to developing the technical capabilities of the company and growing the skill level of our staff.
T&T: How would you characterize the Romanian additive manufacturing market in terms of both 3D printer sales and services?
C.F.: For now, we believe that the local market for 3D printing systems and 3D services (printing/scanning) is still at an early stage. Thus, the discussion can approach the following:
- The customers' needs;
- The expectations these systems should fulfil;
- The budgets in relation to the aspects above;
The 3D printing/scanning equipments employed to supply such services. Practically, there are companies which first define a package of technical requirements, and then start orienting for state of the art solutions with a balanced cost/performance ratio. In turn, there are other companies which select such equipment based solely on the price criterion, technical performance being of secondary importance. As we see it, these distinct approaches are specific to the market segments of the respective companies (professional/ hobby) and their selected business model.
T&T: How many professional 3D printers have you sold so far and what fields were more receptive? Engineering, medicine, architecture, art?
C.F.: Up to now, we sold and installed in Romania more than 25 professional 3D printing systems for both plastic and metal, based on the FDM, PolyJet and Selective Laser Melting technologies. The systems were purchased by customers from various industrial segments, namely:
- The automotive industry;
- Educational and research institutes;
- Dental devices industry.
T&T: Your company provides country-wide services, but you must surely have noticed differences across regions over the years. Where do you think that interest is at a peak? Is it in anyway related to foreign investments?
C.F.: There are definitely regions where the interest for these technologies is more widespread. Based on my experience, these regions coincide with academic centres which, more or less by chance, are the same with industrial investment poles (Timişoara, Bucharest, Piteşti, Cluj, Iaşi, Braşov etc.).
T&T: Do you think that the expectations of the Romanian industry in terms of additive manufacturing are realistic? And, in view of this, do you think that education in this field should be included in the secondary, tertiary or master's degree curricula? Is it too early to introduce kindergarten children (as we’ve seen in many education institutions in Bucharest, for instance) to manufacturing multi-layered products?
C.F.: The expectations of the Romanian industry from the additive manufacturing technologies are still limited on account of the limited information available. Of course, the Internet provides a high amount of data, but its quality and accuracy should be carefully verified. This is but one of the factors behind our decision to invest in state of the art demo systems, which are displayed at our Timişoara head office or various other fairs and exhibitions we participate to. We believe that a swift implementation of these technolo- gies in the educational environment may generate a set of competitive structural benefits for our country. Of course, the complexity of such a system needs to be carefully adjusted to the current educational level. On the other hand, a week ago, we performed a carefully supervised Kid’s Day at our head office in Timișoara, attended by 25 first graders. Taking into account the enthusiasm and involvement and certain very relevant “technical inquiries”, we are convinced these technologies could easily find a place in schools from as early as primary education. In the same vein, we would like to point out the sustained efforts of Senator Varujan Pambuccian in promoting and implementing 3D printing technologies in schools.
T&T: Can you tell us what was your first encounter with a 3D printer or an object manufactured on such a device? What were your first thoughts about this technology?
C.F.: The first time we encountered an object manufactured with a 3D printer was when we received a free sample from Stratasys.
After an in-house assessment of that sample (where we had strong technical and commercial background in the field of plastic processing) and an attempt to identify the manufacturing method, costs, etc., our enthusiasm sky-rocketed, that being the defining moment in our decision to enter the 3D printing market.
T&T: Do you believe that developing the hobby side of additive manufacturing is beneficial for professionals? Is it good only for advertising or can it bring new and valuable ideas?
C.F.: We believe that developing a hobby side to additive manufacturing can bring relevant medium term benefits for the professional segment by generating a higher understanding and a common language in connection with 3D technologies.
In our vision, this type of technology transformed on the short term and will revolutionize on the long term the production methods.
T&T: What kind of support would you like in your activity? Mainly on the government side - meaning a national initiative to stimulate the field, similar to the National Network Manufacturing Innovation, which includes the US-based NAMII (National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute), for instance.
C.F.: Taking into account this is an avant-garde technical field, with a high rate of technologic evolution, constant investments in latest generation equipments are a major effort towards the budget of a company.
From this perspective, we believe that a series of facilities to adopt these technologies are required, with future benefits being found in the development of technical capacities and new market segments, with a high added value and a major differentiation factor.
It is obvious that a governmental decision dedicated to this segment could relevantly contribute to generating an environment conducive to open, transparent and constructive communication. Moreover, it could represent a central reference point for developing promotion actions supported by the main world leading producers.
PHOTO 2. NuTechnologies at Demo Metal 2015
T&T: Additive manufacturing is nowadays considered a disruptive technology. It is also said that additive manufacturing currently provides great design freedom, but that existing CAD software cannot truly tap into this advantage. Do you agree with this two opinions?
C.F.: Additive manufacturing is surely a disruptive technology, which provides an opposed alternative to traditional production technologies.
Naturally, taking into account the evolution of additive manufacturing technologies, the adaptation of CAD software is not at its peak yet. We are convinced that the future two or three years will see a relevant strengthening of software packages dedicated to additive technology.
Diana Popescu dr.eng., UPB,Facultatea IMST, Departamentul MSP.