Prototyping plays crucial role.
In most cases, they are prototyping bike parts, but occasionally they also prototype tooling mock-ups and accessories such as shoes and helmets. When Trek’s annual costs for service bureaus reached $275,000, Trek’s engineering and design manager decided to purchase an in-house rapid prototyping system. Zeigle researched stereolithography (SLA) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) tools. He quickly narrowed the field down to SLA, but still had concerns about the machines’ cost, space and maintenance requirements. Then a colleague suggested the Objet500 Connex 3D printer, a clean, office-friendly machine that produces parts that rival in quality and finish those made with SLA.
Trek previously spent considerable amounts purchasing prototypes from service bureaus.
The Objet500 Connex’s ability to mix two materials together in order to provide nearly any desired durometer and its ability to combine two materials in one part were key selling points. “The Objet Connex was the only rapid prototyping machine we evaluated that would allow us to do one build with multiple materials and durometers,” says Zeigle. “You can’t do that with SLA or other brands of 3D printers. The Objet Connex changed my perception of 3D printing.”
The company selected the Objet500 Connex because of its multi-material capabilities.
Trek now produces four times as many prototypes, resulting in better designs and faster time to market.
Objet Connex enables breakthrough design for new Speed Concept bike.
“The designers had several ideas for the aerodynamic cross-section design in particular, and wanted to see the impact on wind resistance,” explains Zeigle. “So we printed multiple parts that they could snap onto the main bike frame and test in the wind tunnel.” The team also accessories such as water bottles and bento boxes to make the testing conditions more realistic. “The fact that we were able to print multiple iterations quickly enabled the designers to experiment more and still make all their deadlines,” explains Zeigle.
The end result is a bike design called the Kamtail Virtual Foil that’s garnered major media attention. In the past, the Trek team produced prototype parts out of aluminum or dense foam using CNC processes in its machine shop and mixed them with SLA parts outsourced to a service bureau. It took a week or more to make a CNC part and several days to get an SLA part. Today, the lead time for a part made in house on the Objet 3D Printer is usually less than one day. Lupe Ollarzabal, the engineer who runs Trek’s Objet Connex printer, says that having the Objet Connex in house has made a big impact on Trek’s productivity. “Our Objet Connex enables us to either get a new product to market quicker or to get a better product to market on time – and in many cases, it’s both,” said Ollarzabal, whom Zeigle describes as the go-to guy for designers who need a prototype part immediately. “Either way, we win and so do our customers.”
Trek’s designers are also prototyping a lot more frequently. “75 percent of the prototypes we create are things we never would have prototyped before,” says Zeigle. “When we outsourced or had to rely on our in-house milling operation, it was just too expensive and time-consuming to do a lot of prototyping.” Zeigle notes that the Objet Connex has also helped significantly reduce tooling mistakes that can add weeks or months to a product launch schedule. Today, says Zeigle, Trek’s Objet Connex printer runs almost continuously. “At first, we had one part time person who ran our Objet 3D printer,” he recalls.
“Within six months, as designers started prototyping more, it became a full-time job. Our current machine runs all day long, all week long, and sometimes into the weekend. If we get any busier, we will be at the point where we’ll need to add a shift or purchase another Objet Connex, maybe both.” “Stratasys' service has been excellent,” adds Zeigle. “I wish all of our vendors were as responsive as Stratasys. On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re a 10.”