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Rapid Rewards in RM Tech Mastery

By Pamela J. Waterman

This image of the Stratasys large-format production 900MC FDMsystem, shows examples of the 32 parts of themachinemade with FDMtechnology. (Image courtesy Stratasys)

Rapid manufacturing (RM) has experienced a sturdy, deliberate progression of improvements this past year compared to the somewhat heady “let’s try this, this, and this” approach of the past 10. It’s a good sign when companies have mastered their basic technologies and reached the point where they can fine-tune their R&D-based or first-generation results. However, today’s RM industry is anything but staid or dull.

More finely controlled build parameters, greater variety in materials, and overall efficiencies continue to improve, expanding the end uses into just about every application area you can imagine: medical, dental, jewelry, tooling, consumer applications, and more.

DE takes a look at some of the achievements in RM since last June, and offers a glossary reflecting many of the current technologies in this field (see Table 1).

Finer Features, Ne RM Materials
Objet announced it was the first rapid prototyping (RP) company to win the manufacturing industry’s EuroMold 2007 Innovation Award for its Connex500 3D printing system. What’s clever about the Connex500 is its ability to build using two photopolymer materials at the same time.

This model was made in a single continuous build on Objet’s Connex500 3D printing system. The system’s Digital Materials on the Fly approach creates sections with varying mechanical properties by creating multiple composite blends of Tango Black and Vero White materials. (Image courtesy Objet Geometries)

Per the Objet website, “The dual-jet process can combine materials in several ways, enabling the simultaneous use of two different rigid materials, two flexible materials, one of each type, any combination with transparent material, or two jets of the same material.”

Even more interesting, the Connex500 also fabricates parts made from (currently) 21 truly blended-composite Digital Materials and produced by simultaneously jetting two different Objet materials.

This capability creates preset combinations that display different Shore A mechanical (hardness) properties, all in one physical part. More combinations are in the works.

The dental industry is turning out to be a hot application area, for both direct and indirect manufacturing. 3D Systems has been so active in this area it’s a challenge to keep up with its new systems and material offerings. The ProJet DP (dental professional) 3000 3-D Production System, based on the company’s Multi- Jet Modeling technology, manufactures precision wax-ups using 3D System’s Visi-Jet DP 200 dental material. The wax-up molds offer a smooth surface finish for casting or pressing crowns, bridges, and other dental parts.

Other versions of the ProJet 3000 create investment-casting models for such fine parts as jewelry using a full line of VisiJet materials. 3D Systems also announced its V-Flash HA production system for rapid manufacturing of hearing aid shells and molds. The V-Flash system is based on the company’s new Film Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology.

ExOne’s Imagen Rx-D 3D printing system for the dental industry uses direct metal fabrication to create the substructure for such parts as crowns and bridges using gold, gold alloys, palladium, and platinum. A sample dental coping made on ExOne Imagen Rx-D systemis seen above right. (Images courtesy ExOne Imagen)

Envisiontec’s Perfactory systems build parts using image-projection technology based on Digital Light Processing from Texas Instruments. The technology provides fine detail for jewelry and dental industry manufacturing, and now uses the new EnvisiontecWIC300 line of wax based materials for porosity-free casting.

ARolandAdvanced Solutions Division (ASD) JWX-10 wax milling machine recently served as the “rapid” part of a new jewelry pattern system demonstrated by Delft Spline Systems. The driving software is called 123WaxRing, and is part of Delft’s Desk Proto line of CAM software.

Using pre-shaped wax disks, a special fixture, and the smart software, it turns jewelry pattern-making into a pushbutton operation for designers.

Solidscape, a long-time supplier to fine jewelry manufacturers and dental laboratories, recently announced its newT76 system that targets both fields.

Custom Manufacturing: Fun, Funky & Far Out
Industry consultant Terry Wohlers notes that until “additive fabrication” (a term describing an entire group of rapid prototyping ormanufacturing processes) became an option, one-off custom manufacturing was not affordable. Now, individualized items are definitely available, some still as novelty items, butmany as just onemoreway to buy exactly what one desires.

Here are some sample projects:

ZCorp—LandPrint.comis offering 3D physicalmodels of any landscape on the planet, using ZCorp full-color printers.
Freedom of Creation (FOC)—FKM-Sintertechnick of Germany is the manufacturing partner of FOC,whose innovative commercial and industrial products include art, lighting, and textiles created on EOS systems.
EOS—Designer Assa Ashuash created a special chair called the Osteon Chair on an EOS P 730 plastic sintering system; itwould not have been possible to build otherwise.
Digital Jewelry—Greg Pettengill, an artist and engineer, uses direct investment casting of RPmodels created on 3D Systems’Viper, Envisiontec Perfactory, and Objet Geometries machines for his“digital jewelry design”work.
Desktop Factory—This new company’s product is aimed long-termat consumers for everything fromhome-repair items to customtoys and crafts. Video game characters—FigurePrints, an onlinemanufacturing service, recreates personally designedWorld ofWarcraft characters as a fully detailed 3D replica produced on ZCorp 3D printers.
Chocolate—This topic keeps showing up as a possible RMmaterial. Among others, ExeterUniversity (Devon,UK) students are working on the task (see Exeter pioneers chocolate engineering). —PJW

According to David Bothwell, president and CEO of Solidscape, “The system incorporates the automatic functions of the popular R66 system used by custom retail and studio jewelers, but with a duty cycle and speed of Solidscape’s widely used T66 Benchtop 2.” The company’s droplet-based thermoplastic casting patterns are now easier to create thanks to a touch screen interface and 232mm2 build area.

ArcamCAD-to-Metal production of a skull repair-plate was custom-designed based on CT-scan data and manufactured with both a solid core and porous surface to promote bone in growth. It was built with ArcamEBM direct metal manufacturing technology from biocompatible materials like titanium alloys. (Image courtesy Arcam)

Real-World Plastics
EOS demonstrated the increasing popularity of RM with record sales in 2007, showing growth with its metal, sand, and plastic-sintering systems for tooling, dental, and medical applications. The company introduced the compact Formiga P 100 (plastics) system, featuring a more user-friendly touch screen input. It is suitable for the production of a series of small parts and individualized products with complex geometries, and is even making some sintered parts for its own machines.

Stratasys came out with the FDM900mc system, the first system built specifically for direct digital manufacturing. Aimed at eliminating tooling, the new platform uses ball-screw technology (compared to a belt) for driving the head gantry, which has improved predictability and repeatability.

The build envelope measures an impressive 3 ft x 2 ft x 3 ft.

Equally impressive is the fact that 32 plastic parts for the FDM900mc are themselves produced on Stratasys systems, including exterior parts, interior parts, and field service tools.

Also new in the past year from Stratasys is the FDM360mc, a lower-cost system with the same accuracy, repeatability, and material specs of more expensive FDM systems, but with a lower build rate and fewer features. The FDM 360mc is the result of technology innovation and manufacturing-process improvements in the extrusion head gantry, now straighter and stiffer.

Dimension 3D, a division of Stratasys, sells systems that produce ABS working parts, tooling parts, and masters for vacuum

Focus on metals
Though many RM metal parts still need the post processing offered by conventional methods, more and more equipment is showing up as complementary tools in traditional machine shops and specialty production houses.

ExOne markets RM systems based on MIT’s 3D Printing technology for direct metal part production. The company’s Imagen dental and medical systems use such materials as powdered pure gold (an 87-percent gold alloy, palladium, and platinum) to directly create parts.At the same time, ExOne’s ProMetal division sells equipment that manufactures parts in stainless-steel/bronze alloys and pure bronze.

EOS Survey Confirms E-manufacturing is Ready for Mass Market

At recent European trade shows, EOS interviewed manufacturing industry experts, asking pertinent questions about “e-manufacturing” or the creation of end products, functional parts, and tooling directly fromCAD data.When asked if e-manufacturing is ready for themassmarket, 70 percent of the interviewees responded yes, and the rest felt it would be viable within five years.

Respondents also described the drivers for this newmanufacturing approach. Twentyeight percent felt that themost important factor is the trend toward individualized series production, and nearly 25 percent pointed to cost savings compared to traditional technologies.

Although the EOS survey focused mainly on the technology of laser-sintering, more general opinions about e-manufacturing included the belief that individualized mass production will become an established approach in the next 20 years.Twenty-one percent feel that by the year 2028, end customerswill also have their ownmini-factories. —PJW

MCP Tooling Technologies offers the MCP Realizer that melts powdered metals with an infrared laser. Its process, selective laser melting (SLM), can produce fully dense parts and handle such materials as zinc, tool steel, titanium, and chromium-cobalt.MCP also supplies private-label equipment that 3D Systems markets as the DM100 and DM250 with two different build sizes for a wide range of applications.

The Swedish company Arcam markets direct-manufacturing systems that produce parts using electron-beam melting (EBM) technology on powdered metal.

Last fall Arcam introduced a Productivity Boost feature that increases reliability and reduces build time up to 30 percent. This feature is offered standard on the Arcam A2 and is available as a combination hardware/software upgrade for the EBMS12.

This past January, Arcam also made a major change by assuming full responsibility for North American sales, terminating its previous distribution agreement with Stratasys.

“North America is Arcam’s largest market and also the market with the highest long-term potential,” said Arcam President and CEO Magnus René. “After evaluating our options we concluded that our own operation in North America provides the best overall value for our U.S. and Canadian customer base.”

3D Systems has announced a joint development project with TRIAL Corp. of Kanagawa, Japan, to develop specialty materials and composites for selective laser sintering (SLS) machines, addressing the needs of the RMindustry. 3D Systems has already developed an engineered, high-temperature nanocomposite material,Accura Greystone plastic, for its stereo lithography (SLA) systems. Applications include tooling, wind-tunnel test parts, and under-the-hood automotive components.

POM’s Robotic DirectMetal Deposition system66R is a fiber-coupled diode-laser machine integrated with a 6-axis industrial robot. Eliminating the need for a CNC machine, it brings the system to the part for repairing massive tool components. (Image courtesy The POMGroup)

POM’s direct metal deposition technology is applicable to manufacturing, remanufacturing, and reconfiguring, both for creating new tooling and restoring edges on such components as worn gas-turbine blades. Its systems use a diode laser to fuse metal powder delivered through a coaxial feed, creating fully dense parts. Materials include multiple metal blends and cermet, a composite material composed of ceramic (cer) and metallic (met) materials. The company’s newest systems are portable, robotically controlled DMD 44R and 66R, for rework of massive tools (more than 3 meters on a side).

Another company that offers metal-repair options is Optomec, makers of the Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) systems.

Its newest feature is a deep repair head that extends the ability of the LENS system to reach into tight spaces and repair non-line-of-sight areas on any component.

Optomec also markets anM3DAerosol Jet Deposition system that uses a 40-nozzle aerosol head to print electronic components such as solar cells. The non contact system produces a solar cell every 2.5 to 3 seconds, a rate that certainly deserves the label of RM.

Solidica is focusing its efforts on end products, rather than machine sales, using its Ultrasonic Consolidation system to manufacture embedded sensor devices.

Rapid Manufacturing Conference
The Third Annual International Rapid Manufacturing Conference is set for July 9 and 10, 2008. It is to be held at Loughborough University, Holywell Park, UK. One of the co-organizers is Econolyst, an international consulting firm dedicated to the development and implementation of additive manufacturing technologies.

The technology is capable of embedding reinforcing members such as boron and silicon carbide fibers or stainless steel meshes into metal matrices for improved structural performance.

Yes, many challenges still exist in terms of process control, quality assurance, and material development to bring RM to a fuller role in the manufacturing world, but there are already many happy customers.

Expect to see continued growth in this creative field.

More Information:
3D Systems
Rock Hill, SC

Mölndal, Sweden

Delft Spline Systems
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Desktop Factory
Pasadena, CA

Digital Jewelry Design
Mims, FL

Dimension 3D Printing Group
Eden Prairie, MN

Krailling bei München, Germany

Ferndale, MI

ExOne Prometal/Imagen
Irwin, PA


Freedom of Creation
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Kira America


Mcor Technologies
Ardee, County Louth, Ireland

MCP Tooling Technologies
Fairfield, CT

Objet Geometries, Inc.
Billerica, MA

Albuquerque, NM

The POM Group
Auburn Hills, MI

Roland Advanced Solutions Division
Irvine, CA

Sintermask Technologies
Mölndal, Sweden

Ann Arbor, MI

Yehud, Israel

Merrimack, NH

Eden Prairie, MN

Texas Instruments
Dallas, TX

Wohlers Associates
Ft. Collins, CO

Burlington, MA

Contributing Editor Pamela J. Waterman is an electrical engineer and freelance technical writer based in Arizona. You can contact her about this article by sending an e-mail message to DE-Editors@ deskeng.com.

About Pamela J. Waterman

Contributing Editor Pamela Waterman, Digital Engineering's simulation expert, is an electrical engineer and freelance technical writer based in Arizona. Contact her via DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.