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From Prototypes to Production

Stratasys Direct
Stratasys Direct February 06, 2019
February 06, 2019
from prototype to production 1

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 (SLA) 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 the easiest and most cost-effective to post-process 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 the 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, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) shine. SLS builds with powdered nylons and needs no support structures. SLS 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. SLS and FDM parts can be sanded, dyed, painted, and given other treatments to meet desired cosmetics.

928 Motorsports LLC utilized Selective Laser Sintering when developing a new intake runner for a high-torque racing motor, the last step of a total enhancement of airflow for the 32-valve Porsche 928 engine. SLS 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 and selected, there may be a need for a part that combines elements into one or a couple of prototype iterations. Here, parts are assembled or fully finished, with necessary material and functional qualities brought together.

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 are the perfect spot; toolless 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 such as FDM, SAF, SLS, and P3 are capable of providing excellent 3D printed production parts for unique applications needing a small volume. 

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 SLA 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 of product development and production is the opportunity to have a single vendor who knows your project in and out. Stratasys Direct has significant experience meeting customer needs at every step along the development life cycle.

9085, 1010 and ULTEM™ trademarks are used under license from SABIC, its affiliate or subsidiary.

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