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Theater aglow with LED lights created with Stratasys 3D printing technology.

The light stuff: 3D printing illuminates the movies.

aaron pearson
Aaron Pearson April 14, 2021
April 14, 2021

The ambience creators. 

If Hollywood is all bright lights, enjoying a Tinseltown feature in the theater is dependent on carefully curated and customized lighting — illumination that creates the right ambience before the show, and highlights critical paths but doesn’t distract when the projector is running.


That’s the stock and trade of Tempo, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that designs and manufactures configurable LED lighting systems for theater venues, as well as buildings and industrial facilities.


Tempo is not only a pioneer, shipping the first LED safety lighting product in 1997, its technology is built using a “Less Humans per Lumen” philosophy. Configurable, modular and interchangeable components are designed to reduce installation time and costs, and decrease maintenance. Plus, all Tempo products are built in the U.S., at the Irvine headquarters. With full control of the supply chain, the company provides the industry’s shortest and most reliable lead times.


And at the core of its ability to deliver is 3D printing, for both parts production and prototyping.

3D printed parts for LED lights.

Part efficiency, full-on customization.

On the manufacturing front, a Stratasys Fortus 450mc and F900 printer run continuously for build-to-order projects. For example, one of the company’s most popular product lines is the HLS Cross-Aisle, which provides a narrow beam of light for cross-aisles, stairs, walkways and landings to keep patrons safe while moving in a dark auditorium. The challenge with this type of technology, however, is precision; the beam needs to cover high-traffic points, but light can’t spill into the seating area.


Given the variety of theater layouts, that can mean mounting the fixtures at various angles, anywhere from 20 to 40 feet off the ground. It also requires an array of baffles and shields to direct the 4-foot-wide beam to the appropriate zone.


“What started as three units for the system quickly grew to 20 as we started to outfit more spaces,” said Shaun Toms, a design engineer at Tempo. “Using traditional manufacturing techniques and hard tooling for every baffle, for every mounting height would have cost a fortune.”


Instead, Tempo uses the 3D printers to produce the parts, building more than 20,000 pieces annually. This has allowed the company to manufacture components to create many different beam patterns, stay on top of customer demand and reduce lead times if a variation is required.


“Additive manufacturing allows us to quickly adapt when we need to tailor a product for a customer or application, or incorporate general design improvements,” Toms said.

Empty inventory and exchange.

There are additional benefits, including a drastic reduction in on-hand inventory. For the HLS Cross-Aisle and other offerings, the only pieces that Tempo stocks are lights and lenses. Everything else is printed as needed and the finished goods go directly to final manufacturing assembly. In effect, Tempo has a digital inventory where there’s no product beyond the FDM printing material to store and manage.


3D printers have also proven useful when problems with conventional production have surfaced. A die-cast tool used to create parts for an older product line failed, for instance, and the company was faced with a choice — to reinvest or find an alternate path.


“It would have taken three to four months to get a replacement part,” Toms said. “So we opted to use 3D printers to help build the product. Not only were we back online quickly, we were able to streamline production by reconfiguring the design, replacing several mating components with one printed piece.”

A prototype for innovation.

Whether using printers or other methods for manufacturing, all new products at Tempo now begin as 3D-printed prototypes. This allows designers and engineers to check for fit and function — and address issues — before committing capital for tooling when it’s needed. The ability to test and quickly refine has improved time to market by 50 percent.


“The HLS Cross-Aisle went from a sketch design on paper to a product within six months.” Toms said.


Similarly, as Tempo has extended into buildings and industrial environments, 3D printing has provided R&D flexibility. The company’s pr1meFX system, which provides primary lighting while hidden in an architectural cove, was one of the first products to come to life on a Stratasys Dimension printer before production. As a result, designers were able to rapidly iterate and finalize the components onsite, preventing potential changes to hard tooling used for high-volume fabrication.


“The end result is impressive efficiency,” Toms said. “We have been able to trim the time spent on design, prototyping and manufacturing, while avoiding expensive errors and improving quality.”


All printers were purchased from Stratasys reseller Purple Platypus, which provides ongoing technical and printing support.



                                           Learn more about the Stratasys F900 3D printer.