TOKYO -- Japanese electronics maker Casio Computer has developed a 3-D printer capable of replicating the texture of such materials as fabric and leather, which may help to drastically reduce the time frame for manufacturers to craft prototypes and bring products to market.
Texture is created by electromagnetic waves that expand the surface of resin sheets. The roughness can be adjusted over seven levels, as well as the firmness. Colors and detailed patterns like stitching can also be printed. An A4-sized resin sheet costs about 1,000 yen ($9) and printing would take about five minutes. Casio developed the technology using its know-how in commercial printing, a field it exited previously.
The printer can create test products without using the same materials as the originals. The sheets' elasticity also allows them to be fitted around objects.
Current 3-D printers can create forms easily but not texture, with the uniform material limiting the usefulness for many companies. Casio thus sees high demand for its latest technology.
In product development, two of the most time-consuming tasks are material choice and design. On the other hand, swiftly responding to changing trends has become essential in many industries increasingly reliant on online sales. Companies need to expedite development while cutting costs.
The Casio printer will first be used to help a Japanese automaker produce a prototype interior for a car slated to go on sale in three years. The development time is expected to shrink from three to six months down to about three weeks, a time savings of roughly 70% to 90%.
Casio also hopes the printer can be applied to the fashion and construction industries to aid in the development of shoes, bags, wallets, wallpaper and more. Going forward, the company will improve the durability of sheets, paving the way for the technology's use in mass production of finished products.
Casio plans to start production on a made-to-order basis in January 2018 and begin sales the following month. The company is aiming for 10 billion yen in sales by around 2020. Consolidated sales for the fiscal year ended March were 321.2 billion yen. Mainstay wristwatches tallied 169.6 billion yen in sales, while calculators and other education equipment accounted for 84.4 billion yen. Casio is hoping to make its cutting-edge 3-D printer a new revenue source.