In 2016, 3D artist Janne Kyttanen and his company What the Future Venture Capital (WTFVC) launched a new company called Pixsweet. The company, launched in beta towards the end of that year, featured 3D printed ice pops that could be designed and printed in mere seconds, using any design the user chose, including pictures from the Internet. The ice pops were a hit, but the company is a lot more than just a confectionery provider; it was a test pilot for a new technology called 3D thermo injection (3DTi).
The autonomous technology combines injection molding, packaging technology, laser cutting and 3D printing into one, and it can be used on a wide variety of materials, not just foods. WTFVC is using the popular Pixsweet as a case study, showing how 3DTi can be used to transform not just ice pops but the manufacturing industry. 3DTi, according to WTFVC, addresses seven manufacturing challenges:
- Speed – injecting directly into the product packaging
- Scalability – adjusting length and width of films provides exponential scale
- Repeatability – exploding air pressure into a cavity in a simple and repeatable seven-second cycle
- Material properties – all liquids, gels, pastes, powders, etc. can be used
- Ease of creation – automatic 2D to 3D translation
- Labor – no post-processing; products come already packaged off the line
- Price – sourcing off-the-shelf cheap materials
We spoke with Kyttanen about Pixsweet and 3DTi, and the future of the technology in the manufacturing industry.
How did you come up with the idea to combine so many different technologies into one?
“Pure frustration from the limitations of 3D printing. I have been in the 3D printing field for over 20 years and when I started, I was fascinated by the complexity of objects you could create with it. However, that all really boiled down to making expensive and complex things slowly, whilst the bigger markets really crave cheap and simple things fast. That’s exactly what our tech does.”
Have you tried 3DTi technology on other materials? How well does it translate?
“We have managed to use it for high velocity production on chocolate, ice cream, crayons, hydrogels for stem cells, aluminum, icing, fondant and butter. Since you can use any liquid, paste, gel or powder type substance, we are not limited by special materials developed for specific 3D printers. For metals, we have created a derivative inexpensive technology, which literally utilizes a 3D air pocket as the master. You don’t need to create a wax model anymore, but we just use air. We call it Lost Air Casting. This is a simple example, where an ancient technique as slurry casting can still be improved. 20% in lost wax casting processes is spent on the wax. We can do the same thing with just film, which cost 1 cent.”
Do you see this technology becoming a major part of the manufacturing industry?
“Absolutely. All these technologies are known for decades, but nobody yet put them together in this way.”
How have people responded to Pixsweet so far?
“The response has been great. Our launching customers have included, Google, Apple, Disney, Warner Brothers, Virgin, Twitter, Instagram and a ton of others. We just started the Baseball season with several Minor Leagues Baseball teams concession stands, the fans will be eating 3D ice pops in form of the team mascots or logos.”
What is the next step in the development of 3DTi technology?
“We are far enough now that we can open up the doors and bring others in to collaborate with us during the next phase of development. Creating 3D shapes out of any material requires their own experts and it would be quite an undertaking for us to do all of that on our own. We are also open for feedback on quality and speed of our tech. When we tell people in the 3D printing industry, that it takes us 1.3 seconds to create one 3D icepop, it sounds fast for them. In the high volume food industry, that is still considered quite slow. We can speed up our process by about 4x, but again, we would not do it unless we had a launching customer in a specific industry, who would really require that kind of speed.”
If you’re interested in collaborating on the development of 3DTi, you can contact WTFVC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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