Testing 3D printing at OVH.com

“We acquired a mass audience 3D printer. For now, we are trying out this new technology. We are contemplating the possibilities made available by this product”, explains Jean-François. The 3D printer used in Roubaix Valley works by fused deposition modeling: “The head of the printer melts a very fine plastic wire at 260°C. Then, the head of the printer moves to set a layer of plastic matter, one sequence at a time, following an increment that we can determine, he says. We can manufacture hollow pieces to save on matter and, to insure their solidity, they are made with a meshing.” The ABS (or acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene), the plastic in question, is largely used in the industry for its resilience. Henrick continues: “The evolution of technology is very fast, we can already find on the market different kinds of 3D printers that can work different materials. We are going to go progressively, study more deeply, then purchase more sophisticated machines that will allow us to build metallic parts, for instance.”

3D printing gives the opportunity to manufacture many mechanical parts for the servers.

Presently, the two men focus on the reproduction of mechanical parts for the servers, which are available in data banks on the Internet. Here, a screw and its nut, there, a fan grill, elsewhere, some sockets… “We could manufacture a number of plastic parts for almost all of our needs, explains Henryk. Right now, we are at the experimentation phase: we are doing resilience tests, we are verifying technical reliability, and we are also studying production costs. Our study still is at its infancy and we are still trying to develop our vision. I believe that in a year or two, we will be able to apply what we are now developing.

Potential immediate savings

3D printing would allow the hosting provider to make important savings, while revisiting its business model. “As innovation enthusiasts, we keep an eye on what is being done in the new technologies sector to be able to offer avant-garde solutions to our clients. And 3D printers point to a new industrial revolution! Within the next few years, manufacturing processes will be turned upside down, says an enthusiastic Henryk. For example, a supplier will not have to manufacture, store, and then deliver products. It will do front-line business by conceiving and developing parts that we will be able to reproduce here, in accordance to our needs.” To reduce to its minimum transportation and storage fees, while manufacturing parts from inexpensive raw material, would allow OVH to optimize its production costs and therefore offer its customers ever-more competitive products.

Reproduced in ABS plastic, this part is used to lock the small hard drives inside the servers.

However, 3D printing offers the possibility to go even further than simply reproduce mechanical parts that already exist. Its main advantage is fast prototyping, as explained by Jean-François: “A few years ago, we called in a supplier to help us develop a small part, a type of leveling pad that we would insert in the servers to lock in small hard drives. We made plans, received a first prototype that we modified, ordered a new sample, etc.” A procedure that not only takes time, but spurs non-negligible costs: “The current plastic prototyping process requires us to reach out to companies that practice injection molding. However, injection molding is expensive, one mold representing an investment of $5,000 to $10,000, so it still constitutes to be a hurdle. Today, to eventually develop these types of parts ourselves is not impossible anymore. We can then launch manufacturing on a bigger scale, which would mean a better reactivity.”

Endless possibilities

The hosting provider is therefore feeding on big ambitions, even if Henrik temporizes. “Of course, we are already assembling our own servers, but we are not going to manufacture all of the parts that make it, he observes. I am in part thinking about electronic parts manufacturers who have their own know-how and high-tech workshops. We will of course continue working with these suppliers. But we can imagine, in a near future, that we will produce ourselves all of the mechanical parts of a server with a 3D printer.” And Jean-François concludes: “I am convinced that we still have not seen all the possibilities this machine has to offer. We will soon think of new ways to produce things, new products and new commercializing techniques.”