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From Prototypes to Production

- February 06, 2019

From Prototypes to Production

The story of 3D printing started in prototyping. Now three decades after its invention, the industry has shifted, awakening the reality of production parts made with additive manufacturing across a range of applications.

Products are typically designed to be mass manufactured in thousands or hundreds of thousands, with prototypes being built and tested throughout the development process. The competition to market puts pressure on the product development life cycle. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing understands the product development life cycle and offers a full-range of manufacturing technologies and a team of experts to meet every step along the way.

Concept Modeling

Early-stage concept models, representations that convey the basic elements of a product, are typically produced in small numbers and don’t require all the functional characteristics of the final production part. Therefore, concept models can be produced using a variety of 3D printing technologies that are fast and affordable.

The fastest 3D printing technology on the market is PolyJet, with the ability to build parts with remarkably thin layer lines and in full CMYKW color. Stereolithography (SL) is also fast, providing opaque as well as translucent materials – perfect for concept modeling parts that may utilize glass or other transparent components. These technologies are easiest and most cost effective to finish to cosmetic requirements.

Design and Engineering

In the early stages of developing a product, it’s important to test components that are nearly identical to final production parts. After concept models have been iterated, this testing begins, and parts have higher requirements, especially when it comes to materials.

For more robust requirements, Laser Sintering (LS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) shine. LS builds with powdered nylons and needs no support structures. LS offers an opportunity for hardy fit and functional testing. FDM extrudes filament plastics layer-by-layer for resilient parts, with the added advantage of utilizing robust production thermoplastics like ABS, Polycarbonate, and ULTEM™ resin. LS and FDM parts can be sanded, dyed, painted and given other treatments to meet desired cosmetics.

928 Motorsports LLC utilized Laser Sintering when developing a new intake runner for a high torque racing motor, the last step of a total enhancement of air flow for the 32-valve Porsche 928 engine. LS was chosen for its functionality and strength so the runner wouldn’t break when bolted to the engine, ensuring form and fit. The process allowed for the changes to the intake runner to be made immediately and avoided the expense of tooling.

Final Prototyping

After design, look, fit and function have been tested, there may be a need for a part that combines these elements into one or a couple prototype iterations. Here, parts are assembled or full finished, with necessary material and functional qualities brought together.

At this point in prototyping, PolyJet and SL are still viable options dependent on the application needs, but tougher materials from manufacturing processes that build production parts may be utilized. CNC machining can be introduced to the product development cycle here for cheaper metal components. For more complex metal parts, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) can be utilized. There may be a transition from plastic prototypes to metal production parts, so a final metal prototype may be desired. That’s where DMLS is the perfect technology. For a nearly identical prototype in multiple quantities, Urethane Casting is an ideal manufacturing process.

Equus Automotive teamed up with us to aid in the manufacturing of a prototype/pre-production BASS770, utilizing a range of additive and conventional technologies to produce multiple interior and exterior components. The advanced manufacturing processes provided optimum customization and full control of details for Equus, providing an excellent prototype option for the auto company.

Low Volume Production

Small scale production can run anywhere from 1 part to 1,000, depending on the project. In additive manufacturing, production parts at this scale is the perfect spot; tool-less manufacturing of complicated geometries at a quick rate is ideal for companies needing to get to market fast.

Here is the point in the life cycle where additive technologies DMLS, FDM and LS are capable of providing excellent 3D printed production parts for unique applications needing a small volume.

Conventional manufacturing processes Urethane Casting and CNC Machining also come into play, providing a sometimes more cost effective option. For some applications Injection Molding may be the place to turn to, even for smaller volume needs.

Many aerospace companies have found small scale production with additive technologies to be a sweet spot for their production needs. For example, Bell Helicopter uses Stratasys Direct for a variety of low-volume production parts.

Full Scale Production

Arriving at the need for full scale production, processes like injection molding remain a logical choice. The most common method for fabricating high volumes of plastic parts, injection molding is cost effective at high volumes. Stratasys Direct offers expert tool fabrication and state-of-the-art injection molding capabilities for customers ready to move into this arena; we have the full capabilities to get you to the finish line.

EMD Millipore Corporation developed their Millipore Muse™ Cell Analyzer with us, beginning with cosmetically finished SL concept models, moving into urethane cast prototypes for final checks, before transitioning into tooling and injection molding.

The beauty of working with a custom manufacturer that offers options for all stages in product development and production is the opportunity to have a single vendor that knows your project in and out. Stratasys Direct has significant experience meeting customer needs in every step along the development life cycle.

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