Printing's advantages shine in pandemic, says 3DChimera co-founder

April 12, 2021
Additive manufacturing technologies created opportunities that allowed companies to address supply chain shortages, according to Alex Hussain of 3DChimera, which has recently added a new printer and dryer to its offerings.

Watch for our Cover Story focusing on innovations in additive manufacturing, coming in the May issue and on

By Karen Hanna 

In a year that required quick adaptation, one of the chief selling points of additive manufacturing — its flexibility  really shone, said Alex Hussain, CEO and co-founder of 3DChimera, a supplier of all things 3-D. 

From printers to scanners to software, 3DChimeraoffers a little bit of everything, including printing services. In the past year, it’seven made face shields and donated personalprotective equipment. The company’s newest offerings include two technologies created by innovatiQ, which was known as German RepRap until December, when it became a subsidiary of Arburg GmbH + Co KG, Lossburg, Germany.

According to Hussain, Fortune 100 companies  among 3DChimera’s biggest customers  withdrew their investmentin 3-D printing technology when the pandemic hit. But smaller companies stepped into the gap, looking for ways to fabricate parts that suddenly were hard to source. For them, 3-D printing offered a lot of benefits. 

Along the way, like so many individuals over the past year, many companies found themselves picking up extra projects to insulate themselves from the unpredictability in the economy. Using 3-D scanners and printers, customers could fabricate parts and respond to needs in the supply chain.  

“If you were a gig worker, you might call it your side hustle to have a little Etsy shop or something,” Hussain saidIt's like these businesses have completely legitimate side hustles selling products to end customers that are related, but not directly in competition, to how they service their existing customer base.”

Interest in 3DChimera’s products and services came from firearms makers, as well as manufacturers of medical devices and consumer and pet-care products. For many of 3DChimera’s new customers, supply chain problems meant returning to the drawing board, to make parts that are typically injection molded. 

“And, so, we started to see a really quick transition to almost reshoring of manufacturing, but almost in a really strange way,” Hussain said. 

In the last several months, 3DChimera has announced it’s a U.S. distributor for two new complementary technologiesinnovatiQ’s TiQ 5 fused-filament-fabrication (FFF) printer, which began shipping this spring, and the MiQ 5, a filament dryer. InnovatiQ introduced both technologies in the fall during the virtual-only Formnext.  

A dual-extruder printer, the TiQcan print two components at once, and it can handle a range of resins, including ABS, PP and engineering-grade resins. An upgrade over German RepRap’s x500 pro printeritfeatures a controller designedforfaster printing speeds,greater precision and reproducibility.

This results in improved process reliability, making the TiQ 5 ideal for printing small series parts in industrial production,” Hussain said. 

Like the TiQ 5, the MiQ is especially appropriate for use in printing small-batch, industrial-use parts. It feeds material into the printer at the optimum temperature and humidity, and it uses colored lights to signal to operators whether conditions are in or out of spec.  

Hussain said the pandemic has driven demand from some corners for 3-D printing technologies, accelerating a trend that’s been fueled bthe technologies’ versatility, increasing user-friendliness and falling prices.  

“As the pandemic roared on, we started to see companies who weren't just looking to supplement their supply chain, but who are actually looking to completely release new products without the burden of tooling,” he said. “A lot of these companies, they've had ideas on the back burner for years, or maybe even products that they were able to offer to their customers on a small basis, and what they started to do was invest in this equipment in order to actually produce these parts in-house and open up totally new lines of business.

Typically, companies have used polyamide (PA) 12, which has a nice surface finish and can be easily dyed black. But also on trend are tough materials, like carbon- and glass-fiber-reinforced resins, Hussain said. 

And those also have similar characteristics to the PA 12, nylon from SLS [selective-laser-sinter printing], but they're typically printed instead in an FFor FDM [fused-deposition-modeling] process, so extrusion-based 3-D printing. And in those cases, you can end up with incredibly strong and stiff parts,” he said. “And with minor CAD tweaks, you can easily replace parts that might have traditionally been made out of aluminum, or maybe a traditional polymer like an ABS or polycarbonate; we can print those things directly in 3-D printing.” 

While companies might get their 3-D printing start by using the printing services of partners such as 3DChimera, many quickly find ways to justify investing in the technologies themselves. In part, that’s because the technologies are available across a wide range of price points, making it easy to enter the market, or to scale up as small-batch jobs take on greater importance.  

Our 3-D printers range from as little as 5,000 bucks, up to maybe 100KOur average production 3-D printers, or manufacturing-quality 3-D printers, the price was right around $50,000. So you could bring in 10 or 20 of those machines, it would cost you less than an injection mold. One machine can make you 500 parts [in a production run]rightTwenty machines can make you 20 times that, and so that's where you start to see crazy efficiency come out of this equipment,” Hussain said. “One machine can allow you to accept small jobs you might have otherwise turned down, and many machines can allow you to potentially replace that previous production technology.” 

Depending on the kind of printer, operators can print multiple parts on one machine, which is one way to compensate for the technology’s relatively slow production times. With no tooling, and print and design software increasingly targeting novice users, setup is easy, and many printers can run without human interaction  even overnight. 

In this way, small batches that are economically unfeasible for injection molders become important side hustles for manufacturers with a few printers, allowing them to “open up totally new lines of business,” he said. Now, instead of minimum jobs of 5,000 or 10,000 parts, they can profit from as few as 50.  

“It seems that a lot of these folks had been hesitant about the technology over the years, maybe for fear of replacing the existing business that they do, and I think what they've discovered is that it's in no way a threat to their business, but rather a huge supplement to the type of work that they can accept,” Hussain said.  

He added that unlike other manufacturing methods, 3-D printing can produce parts without wasting material. Combined with the other advantages it offers  including the abilities to produce fine details and lattice structures, as well as to customize and tweak parts from one part to the next  printing just might be crossing a threshold, from novelty to manufacturing staple. 

It's definitely changing the way some manufacturers operate, Hussain said. 

“And I think that's been probably the most exciting part of working in our space here over the last year or so is that we've seen large percentage of small- and medium-sized businesses completely changing the way that they operate and stepping into new areas of business, producing products on demand or in short-run production, using 3-D printing as the primary manufacturing methodology,” he said. 

Karen Hanna, associate editor

[email protected]


3DChimera, Miami, 786-701-0700, 

innovatiQ GmbH + Co KG, Feldkirchen, Germany, 

Vital Statistics  

TiQ 5  3-D printer 

Build volume 19.7 inches by 15.7 inches by 18.7 inches 
Maximum resolution To within 20 microns 
Maximum extrusion temperature 752 degrees Fahrenheit 

MiQ 5 dryer for 3-D printers 

Filament capacity for active printing Two 4.6-pound spools 
Storage capacity  Three 4.6-pound spools or four 2.2-pound spools