Straightforward scalability in additive manufacturing
As a new product design inches closer to the production line, the issue of scalable production becomes a key focus for the engineering teams involved. As a production line begins to reach capacity, the primary concern of management revolves around scaling that capacity with minimal capital expenditure and maximal use of existing labor resources. Additionally, new innovative materials are required to enable new production workflows and applications to exist.
As additive manufacturing (AM) has industrialised, it has gained new roles on the shop floor, well beyond its cornerstone task of prototyping. It meets a number of manufacturers’ needs by enabling immediate production on a wide variety of parts, is perfect for lights-out production and enables new product production to scale rapidly without the time and cost of tooling. However, these benefits do not excuse AM from its need to meet manufacturers’ standards for repeatability, reliability, accuracy, material properties, surface finish, and scalability of production capacity.
The development of the Figure 4 3D printing platform by 3D Systems answered five of these six critical needs, and the recent availability of the new Figure 4 Modular system, all six needs are fully addressed. Starting with just one or two modules linked to a single controller, Figure 4 Modular makes it possible to rapidly scale capacity with the addition of subsequent printer modules up to 24 units. Now it is possible to both immediately scale the production of new parts as well as scale capacity.
Each additional printer module of the Figure 4 system brings the ability to produce a greater variety of parts simultaneously, using different materials engineered for the Figure 4 Modular system, including those with ABS-like, polypropylene-like, and elastomer-like properties. These highly robust materials are suitable for a diverse range of applications, including prototyping, production parts, and master patterns for urethane and investment casting, among others.
Shrinking time-to-part with high quality and ease-of-use
The Figure 4 Modular 3D printer prints parts at speeds of up to 100 millimetres per hour. Given its rate of print speed, it is estimated that Figure 4 Modular is able to produce 10,000 plastic parts per month, making it an option for immediate production and immediate scaling when the demand for parts increases temporarily.
Midwest Prototyping, an AM service bureau in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, is using a Figure 4 Modular system and experienced an immediate positive impact. According to Steve Grundahl, President and founder of the company, the speed and quality of the system are of tremendous value to the business: “We are very impressed with the resolution and the level of detail that we can get with the Figure 4 Modular. The speed is much faster than we’re used to with traditional (additive) technology. Being able to print very quickly and then have a relatively short post-cure operation [makes it possible to] print and ship, or print and deliver, in the same day.”
Global sporting goods manufacturer, Decathlon has also found the speed of Figure 4 Modular impressive and capability enhancing. “By incorporating the Figure 4 Modular into our design and development cycle, we have the potential for much higher productivity with a wider variety of material choices,” says Julien Guillen, AM leader, Decathlon. In a comparison between its existing desktop SLA solution and Figure 4 Modular, Decathlon was able to arrive at the same quantity of tensile test parts 19 times faster. What took the pervious system 29 hours to produce takes only 90 minutes on the Figure 4 Modular systems.
“With features like automated material feed and job management, we are able to improve productivity and reduce costs associated with labour,” Guillen adds.
Injection moulded quality in additive
3D Systems’ Figure 4 platforms are delivered with 3D Sprint, an all-in-one AM software. Pairing these two technologies helps to meet the repeatability standard of injection moulding, even on fine feature details.
“The quality of the final parts we are able to produce using the Figure 4 Modular is excellent,” said Chris Nicoll, Prototype Lab Manager, D&K Engineering. “Many of our engineers have commented, ‘This looks as good as a moulded part’ due to the excellent model conformity, surface finish, and physical properties. We can instantaneously create prototype parts, and small quantities of production parts, with injection-moulded quality. Figure 4 Modular is replacing other traditional technologies we currently use, decreasing our development cycle, shortening time-to-market, and dramatically increasing our productivity to better serve our customers.”
Diverse and expanding selection of materials
What makes 3D Systems’ Figure 4 technology so compelling is the diverse and expanding range of robust and high-quality materials that are already announced and available.
The portfolio of materials for Figure 4 includes ABS-like materials, polypropylene-like and elastomeric. The company recently introduced Figure 4 FLEX-BLK 10, a polypropylene-like material, which has flexible and durable properties, making it an ideal choice in a range of scenarios, from prototypes to concept models to master patterns and end-use parts. In Q3 2019, 3D Systems also expects to make available Figure 4 TOUGH-BLK 20, an ABS-like black material which boasts high UV stability and accuracy, making it suitable for production applications. In the summer of 2019, 3D Systems expects to release Figure 4 MED-AMB 10, a transparent amber biocompatible material, and towards the end of the year, the company plans to introduce Figure 4 HI-TEMP-AMB 250, a material with high-thermal resistance able to cater to applications like motor enclosures and tooling.
The Figure 4 Modular portfolio of materials includes:
- TOUGH-GRY 10: ABS-like dark grey material. Print speeds up to 100 mm/hr. For strong, rigid parts.
- TOUGH-GRY 15: ABS-like grey material. High strength & stability for short-run production of rigid parts at low cost.
- TOUGH-BLK 20: ABS-like black material. High UV stability & accuracy for production applications. Anticipated availability: Q3 2019.
- ELAST-BLK 10: Elastomeric black material. Excellent compressive characteristics for design & validation of rubber-like industrial & consumer goods parts.
- FLEX-BLK 10: Polypropylene-like black material. Flexible, durable. Ideal for functional assemblies, prototypes, master patterns for RTV/silicone moulding, short-run production, and concept models.
- MED-AMB 10: Transparent amber biocompatible material. For consumer high-temperature applications and general medical applications requiring translucency, sterilisation, and/or thermal resistance. Anticipated availability: Q3 2019.
- HI-TEMP-AMB 250: High thermal-resistant material (HDT > 250C) for design verification testing, motor enclosures, and low-pressure moulding/tooling with transparency for flow visualisation. Anticipated availability Q4 2019.