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TechWaTch


3D Rapid Prototyping Changing Manufacturing


By Andy Coutu F


aster. better. cheaper Is the new mantra of today’s manu- facturing companies, which are


using innovative methods to get their products to market faster, better and cheaper than ever before. Who would have thought these words would be used to describe manufacturing? In the old days, manufacturing


took time. “Time to market” was clearly a lengthy cycle in any industry because getting a product from con- cept stage to being available for pur- chase took time. Product development often had a difficult time making it out of the engineering department, based on such variables as initial ap- proval, testing phases, budgeting, staffing allocations, manufacturing, shipping — the list goes on and on. But today, that’s all different.


Thanks to an innovative process known as “3D rapid prototyping,” time to market can be greatly reduced. And the strange thing is: the technology is nothing new. It has been around for nearly three decades. Known as “additive manufac-


turing,” 3D printing is used to fabri- cate models, prototypes and parts out of resin material. Using a CAD draw- ing, a part can be “printed” in a mat- ter of hours. Today’s high-end 3D rapid-pro-


totype printers have improved expo- nentially over the last decade. There are machines with better print quality and resolution, significantly higher run speeds, more material choices, properties and shades of col- or, and less of a footprint. It’s possi-


ble to buy a 3D printer to sit on your desk — similar in size to a laser printer — for printing convenience at your fingertips. So not only are 3D printers more


capable, but the range and mechanical properties of 3D print materials are expanding. The result of all this is that advanced 3D printers are becoming a must-have fixture within every large product-development company, from the automotive sector to electronic goods and household appliances. Manufacturers are able to cut


out much of their secondary tooling processes, such as injection molding, resin tooling, mold making and soft tooling. And all of this will go into helping them shorten their time to market and reduce costs. There’s not a mechanical engi-


neer on the face of the planet who wouldn’t want to hold their product idea in their hands. To physically see it, to feel its material properties, and to test how it works. A design engi- neer could have a new product idea on Tuesday, design a CAD drawing of it on Wednesday morning, and print a 3D part to have in-hand for the sales department’s customer meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Rapid proto- typing virtually eliminates the need for preproduction tooling and specula- tive and costly manufacturing. Engineers today are using 3D


rapid prototyping much the same way the business world embraced “spell check” with word-processing documents. It’s a step in the process that saves costly mistakes by en-


abling form, fit and function testing prior to manufacturing. There’s no end to the innovation


that is taking place using 3D rapid prototyping, on a small and grand scale. According to The Wall Street Journal, Boeing plans to someday make an airplane wing without cut- ting or bending any metal, just using a giant 3D printer. General Electric is getting in on the act, too, for new technology in health care. From mu- sical instruments to dental orthodon- tics and automotive parts, 3D print- ing is turning ideas into reality. It’s a fact that the U.S. is com-


peting with other countries when it comes to manufacturing at reduced costs. 3D printing is but one tool to explore innovation and cost reduc- tion, to determine if a product can be built stronger with less material, for example, or as a tool to check if a new design will function properly. Businesses today compete with


ideas in a global marketplace. In or- der to compete in this modern, “in- stant” world, ideas have to be very fast. What’s your next-generation product? You’d better come up with it quickly and it needs to be better than your competition’s. One of our customers is a major


luggage manufacturer. We built a prototype of handles and a new wheel design on a piece of luggage so it could be tested by a focus group for instant feedback, critical to the man- ufacturing process. Another cus- tomer, a world-renowned gaming- technology company, came up with a


cover design that we prototyped for a casino machine that would use less plastic, saving millions of dollars in the process. For a major golf ball manufacturer, we prototyped four dozen balls, each with different dim- ple arrays, in a matter of two days. These balls were blown through a wind tunnel to see how they would react for speed and accuracy — some- thing that would never have been possible before with traditional man- ufacturing processes. The next major step in 3D print-


ing is the home market. As the print- ers come down in price and the quali- ty increases, more homes will be using 3D printing. Just think of the possibil- ities, if you break the control knob on your toaster, you just go to the manu- facturers website and download the file for the knob. With the downloaded file, you simply send it to the printer and BANG you got a new knob. When we were moving into our


new offices, we needed some door stops to keep the doors open for the movers. Our team simply designed and printed door stops. Think about what that means to the current sup- ply chain. In the future, door stops would not be inventoried at stores, a distributor would not be selling door stops and manufactures would not be making door stops. That’s just one example. What about auto parts stores? In the future, when you need a part, the store will call it up on a computer and then print the part in the back room. This is truly “on-de- mand” manufacturing. Also, in the future, 3D printers


will be manufacturing human body parts. Right now 3D printers can jet human tissue through their print heads. With stem cell and DNA, re- placement livers, kidneys, lungs, hearts etc. will be available if re- searchers can get past the govern- ment regulatory hurdles. Three-dimensional rapid proto-


typing is revolutionizing the manu- facturing floor. The future is here, and its “one-off,” meaning it’s possi- ble to produce just one part or model cost effectively, versus having to pro- duce thousands. When faced with the pace of rapid change, 3D printing is allowing more businesses to compete and take advantage of developing op- portunities in their own backyards and around the world. It puts imagi- nation and innovation back into the hands of more companies. 3D printing is only limited by


the user’s imagination. As the Presi- dent said in his State of the Union address “3D printing will be the next


industrial revolution”. Contact: R&D Technologies,


Inc., 78 Romano Vineyard Way, Suite 114, North Kingstown, RI 02852 % 855-280-6477 E-Mail: acoutu@rnd-tech.com Web: www.rnd-tech.com r


March, 2014


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