ABConcept and ABProduct: nothing in the two company names hints at the vast space in which over 14 trades are carried on, the impressive fleet of machinery and the sudden appearance, on a detour during the visit, of the largest 3D printer on the market. An interview with Aurélien Bouchet.
By Joël A. Grandjean
Just before the lockdown in March 2020, Aurélien Bouchet acquired a new machine that is revolutionising and democratising 3D printing, allowing it to compete with traditional machining and plastic injection moulding and opening up new markets for it, in watchmaking as well as new sectors. Dynamic entrepreneur Aurélien Bouchet shares his insights ahead of his attendance at EPHJ, where the 17 years of experience amassed by his two companies will be on display.
Buying a new machine just before the crisis: was that a good idea?
Our first 3D printing machine dates back to 2005. It was time-consuming, expensive and basic. Then we invested in other technologies, which unfortunately had limited potential in terms of customers. Buying this new HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) gives us access to a 3D printing technology that can be used for serial additive manufacturing.
What material does it use?
PA12, which is REACH/RoHS-certified and biocompatible. Its resistance to mechanical stress allows us to make everyday items. What’s more, it can withstand temperatures of up to 130 °C as well as many chemicals.
Was your aim to democratise 3D printing, just before the crisis hit?
Yes, and boost productivity too! We’re completing jobs with 1,200 components in a manufacture time of 13 hours… We’ve cut the cost of some traditionally manufactured components by a factor of between three and eight. For the watch industry, we make movement holders, bracelet inserts, cleaning baskets, protections, cases, after-sales tools, point-of-sale displays, and so on. By saving on tooling costs, it becomes a viable alternative to plastic injection moulding and machining, and what’s more it’s 100% Swiss Made. Not only that but, much to our surprise, the HP MJF has opened up opportunities for us in new sectors, including orthopaedics, automotive, electronics, leather goods and sporting events.
You claim to encompass 14 watchmaking trades, among others…
That’s right, because all of those trades are essential to the development of what we call our fully project-managed projects, which are also available as direct services. And this reflects a growing demand from our customers. Thanks to this know-how, we can undertake ambitious projects with just a few scraps of material! That said, it’s not just about mastering these trades: we have to combine and enhance them too. For example, 3D printing becomes even more efficient if it’s connected to a finishing workshop for the supply of movement holders. Similarly, CNC machining is a very useful way for us to optimise the precision of our additive manufacturing. In the end, having all these trades close together is a key asset for our development office, which can design reliable products with enhanced feasibility.
You were flying high, full of energy, and suddenly a pandemic comes along…
Indeed, it’s been far from easy, but we were able to continue operating despite the health and economic challenges. We took it on the chin, which has had the effect of reassuring our employees, our suppliers and therefore our customers. Our positivity paid off, and now we’re all set for 2021!