View from the top: Z Corporation

3 min read

3D printing and scanning offer entirely new opportunities in terms of design. Here, leading manufacturer Z Corp offers some examples.

If a designer wants to push the boundaries of the possible, Z Corporation claims to be able help them to get there. By transforming ideas into digital concepts, its technology offers the opportunity to push astonishing creations into the physical world where they make a difference. Z Corporation believes that innovation should drive every phase of design, from concept through data capture, sketching, modeling, detail design, analysis, manufacturing and inspection. It makes this possible with 3D printing and 3D scanning solutions for high-volume, low-cost use by virtually anyone, so that you can innovate early and often throughout the design process. By working with the most productive designers and engineers to create solutions that streamline manufacturing, Z Corporation is able to lead the way in emerging applications in architecture, education, entertainment, healthcare, art, historic preservation and geographic information systems. Organisations traditionally leave physical prototyping to the latter stages of development because traditional technology is slow and prototyping too expensive. Z Corporation claims that it is possible to create prototypes on its ZPrinter for a fifth of the cost of other 3D printers. And, if the user is prototyping numerous design variants at every stage of the design cycle, these cumulative savings are exactly what make the activity feasible on a fixed budget. ZPrinters are based on familiar inkjet printing technology with the premise that 3D printing should be as easy as printing on paper. ZPrinters are also capable of printing prototypes with multiple colours on the same model, just like a paper printer. ZPrinters are the only prototyping devices that do so. Colour 3D printing allows the user to include colour logos, texture maps, FEA results, engineering labels, assembly instructions, and other graphics. These advantages, claims the company, were built into the technology with product designers in mind. Even so, the company admits to being constantly amazed by the depth of adoption in design engineering, and surprised by the pace of adoption in industries it never imagined. An example of this includes Z Corporation's work with Cisco Consumer Business Group (CBG) in Denmark, where it helps the company produce some of the world's most elegant consumer electronic equipment. CBG's ability to produce prototype after prototype helps the company combine the time-honored tradition of Scandinavian design — functional, minimal, and affordable — with the hyper-paced world of consumer electronics. Another company to have benefitted from Z Corporation's equipment is Timberland, which is just one of the footwear giants using this technology in its new designs. Prototypes that used to cost Timberland $1,200 cost $35 with a ZPrinter. A prototype that used to take a week to make now takes 90 minutes. This speed and affordability helps engineering and marketing employees collaborate more closely to produce better products. At The Denby Pottery Company in the UK, Z Corporation helps the venerable manufacturer of china and tableware bring new ideas into its third century. Designers have reduced prototyping time from four weeks to two hours, launching new product lines in half the prior time. Accurate models help innovators better communicate design intent internally, as well as with customers and with suppliers. Z Corporation also helps generate 3D maps on demand. It is the speed, affordable materials and multicolor capability of our technology that makes transforming satellite imagery into physical 3D landscapes feasible. Even more significantly, hospitals like The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the US are able to use the technology to save lives. Doctors are improving the success of delicate surgeries by using ZPrinted models as a 3D roadmap for treatment. Surgeons spend less time investigating the anatomical structures of the patient after the incision is made, reducing blood loss and the likelihood of infection. This facility has even caused some surgeons to say they feel like they've "been there before" when it comes to the real thing. The company has also helped scholars like those at Cornell University preserve ancient artifacts. Assyriology scholars study Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tablets as ZPrinted models, learning more than they would from photographs, preserving the originals from damage, and enabling more students to study them. Here, affordability is the key to getting tablet models into the hands of researchers. Finally and perhaps most touchingly the ZPrinter has helped anthropologists like those at the University of Western Ontario identify the human remains of missing soldiers. Researchers recently used ZPrinted models of a soldier's skull as a basis for photo matching, a key step in confirming the identity of a missing First World War soldier. All of these creative uses for the technology emerged organically from the speed, low cost, ease, and colour capabilities offered by Z Corporation – as well as from the refreshing idea that you can use business and organisational realities to advance innovation instead of hinder it. This technology, believes the company, puts designers back in the driver's seat where they belong. Powerful data capture, CAD software and on-the-fly prototyping have kicked off a new era of entrepreneurship in the design department. No longer does it take a massive investment of time, money and tooling to prove an idea's potential. Today, designers can just CAD up your concept, push a button, print a model, walk it around the company, and inspire others to produce it. Design teams can brainstorm refinements right up to production and individual designers can influence new markets.