By Jeff Hanson, Manager of Business Strategy & Dev
Many engineers believe that the key to success is to determine how to run a project based on technology. For example, will fused deposition modeling (FDM) work better than stereolithography, or will polymer jetting work better than selective laser sintering. The truth is that to get the best results from your project you need to choose the right material.
The decision of whether to use direct digital manufacturing as an alternative or ancillary benefit to injection molding is becoming simple. New materials are constantly introduced that provide enhanced mechanical properties, such as tensile, impact, and flexural strength. In addition, the materials are designed to withstand rigorous testing with extreme temperatures and chemical interactions. Various industries – medical, automotive, aerospace, and so forth-can now consider direct digital manufacturing as an option, one that was previously nonexistent.
The direct digital manufacturing process uses a variety of materials, including production-grade thermoplastics, such as blends and ISO certified materials. If the organization truly wants to consider low-volume production from its investigation into digital manufacturing, it is imperative to select a material capable of tolerating end use.
Digital manufacturing handles parts of intricate geometry, and can cost effectively produce one to several thousand parts.
Direct digital manufacturing is ideal for companies ramping up manufacturing of a new product because it eliminates the delays associated with creating a traditional mold or rapid or plastic tool. Developing short-run part production can shave weeks or even months off of manufacturing time. Companies can meet deadlines, gain new business, or maintain shelf space without additional inventory. (Find Out if Digital Manufacturing is Right for You)
For example, we recently worked with a start-up company that was going to introduce a new surgical tool to the medical industry. However, before mass-producing the new product, the company wanted to validate whether it would do well in the marketplace. The company contracted with us to digitally manufacture a few thousand products, which it used as marketing materials in demonstrations and ultimately for first production ship. From that process, the company gathered feedback from surgeons. What’s more, because direct digital manufacturing promotes the freedom of redesign, the company made multiple design iterations during the initial product launch before mass production started with the tooling company. Today, the medical company is commercially selling the product, and within six months, made its first $1 million from its success.
prototyping when used for digital manufacturing can be more than a
validation tool. It can be used to produce small numbers of parts for
end use or bridge applications.
Time conflicts are a big concern for most engineers. It can take eight to ten weeks to produce a mold for mass production. At approximately $25,000 or more per mold, you want to ensure that your design is accurate the first time. Complex geometries can even extend the lead-time over ten weeks, depending on accessible resources, such as human labor and machine availability. Prior to digital manufacturing, many companies used urethane casting as an alternative to hard tooling. However, that is a confining process that limits design iterations and the capabilities of using the mold. After a few runs, urethane casting-molds begin to wear out, forcing the user to make new ones or find an alternative solution.
Digital manufacturing lets companies build a specified number of products and revisit those same files at a later date without jeopardizing cost and quality.
Historically, rapid prototyping was used for tool validation. Now, digital manufacturing is used for the production of parts for end use in lieu of tooling for short run or bridge applications. Because this method can produce parts of intricate geometry, it allows for the manufacture of one part in cases where previously there were many. This eliminates the time involved in sub-assembly of parts produced by traditional means. For example, a customer was manufacturing valves and needed a fixture for testing. The traditional fixture was machined from aluminum and arrived in several parts that required assembly before the testing process could begin. The fixtures were heavy to lift on and off of shelves, and they produced wasted material that introduced additional cost to the organization. By using a digitally manufactured, lightweight, plastic fixture, the company eliminated waste, saved money, terminated assembly, and improved working conditions for staff.
The benefits are many. More and more organizations are using direct and indirect manufacturing methods to get quality products to market faster. Digital manufacturing may not be the right decision for every application, but it can positively impact end-results for many projects.
A business unit of Stratasys, Inc
: Design World :
Filed Under: 3D CAD, Digital manufacturing, Materials • advanced