When your customers depend on your product for their very lives, it’s easy to see why a time-sensitive development process is crucial.
That’s certainly the case with OxySure Systems, a Texas company that makes portable oxygen generators for emergency use. In the first quarter of 2007, the company will begin shipping its OxySure™ Model 615, approved by the FDA in December 2005 for over-the-counter sales.
The company is positioning the product as a new solution in emergency oxygen aid for those suffering from cardiovascular disease, asthma and other respiratory ailments, as well as for those trying to escape hazardous environments. Measuring 10 x 8 x 4 inches – about the size of a large binocular case – the device houses a mask, tubing, activation knob and a disposable cartridge that uses an accelerant to generate oxygen from two inert powders. The Model 615 can supply more than 15 continuous minutes of medically pure oxygen at the FDA standard 6 liters per minute – without the hazards associated with compressed gas systems.
“Supplemental oxygen can mean the difference between serious brain damage and full recovery, and even between life and death, when someone suffers from oxygen deprivation,” notes Dr. Vincent Modesso, medical director of Pre-hospital Care at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “The OxySure product enables a loved one, bystander or even the person himself to provide that oxygen in a convenient, safe and inexpensive manner while awaiting the arrival of emergency medical providers.”
For the engineers responsible for developing this innovative new product, a key development tool for accelerating the design cycle was 3D printing. OxySure purchased a Series 1200 large-format 3D printer from The Dimension Group of Stratasys, Inc., and Senior Engineer Steve Dunford says the printer was an important tool in helping this team evaluate the form, fit and function of all 22 parts that make up the Model 615’s assembly.
“Even with all the benefits of 3D CAD modeling and all the talented people out there who can read drawings, nothing can match the communication value of a 3D physical model,” says Dunford, who heads the company’s three-person engineering team.
On a routine basis, the OxySure engineers send parts generated by the Series 1200 to the injection molders who will be making production parts for the assembly. “Even though we’ve discussed the parts on the phone and reviewed the 3D drawings, the light really comes on when those vendors see the 3D part,” explains Dunford.
The result, he adds, is reduced cycle time for tool design. “The tools come out the way we want them much earlier. It really makes life easier.”
Among other benefits, OxySure engineers have used the 3D prototypes in operational tests to verify the unit’s function, and they have painted the models for use in displays and other marketing efforts. “We’re keeping our designer, Kraig Kooiman, very busy on the prototype machine” says Dunford.
OxySure uses SolidWorks 3D software to design parts, and Dunford says the team has adjusted easily to the 3D printing equipment, which he describes as virtually “plug and play.” Typically, Kooiman will send multiple files to the printer for optimum use. “Several of our parts require overnight processing, so we just download the files, turn out the lights and go home,” notes Dunford.
The 1200 Series, with its 57% larger build envelope, also is a plus, says Dunford, who notes that some parts use nearly every bit of the machine’s 10 x 10 x 12 inches build size. OxySure isn’t alone in that need.
“We heard loud and clear from a substantial number of customers that a larger build envelope would assist them in their design and development processes,” says Jonathan Cobb, vice president and general manager of The Dimension 3D Printing Group, which introduced the 1200 Series last spring.
OxySure initially purchased a BST version of the 1200, which requires the designer to manually remove the completed model from the system and break away the support by hand. But early on the company, with assistance from distributor Texas Engineering, converted to an SST version, which features an automated soluble support removal system. The unit runs on 120V AC power, rather than 240, which makes it easy to move the equipment form office to office if need be.
Prior to purchasing the 3D printer, OxySure used an outside vendor for prototypes, but as the number of prototypes increased, the rising costs easily justified buying a machine. Dunford figures that the cost per prototyped part, even with overhead, is at least 50% less than it was when his firm relied on a service bureau. With in-house prototyping capability, the engineers also are shaving a day or two off cycle time for parts versus dealing with the service bureau.
In addition to the Model 615, OxySure engineers are using the 3D printer to develop a ruggedized version of the oxygen generator designed for service of 5 years or more in harsh underground mining operations. Mining experts would like to see racks of oxygen devices positioned every 50 to 100 feet where miners are working, but conventional compressed oxygen systems present an explosion hazard and require regular maintenance. OxySure’s proprietary system, with 19 patents pending, presents a clear alternative.
For the engineers who are pioneering this technology, the 3D printer continues to be a valuable tool for stimulating new design approaches. “We have some very innovative people here,” says Dunford, “and the machine has allowed us at a relatively low cost to better express a lot of good ideas, build them, and try them out.”