Rapid prototyping machines ably do what their name suggests. They quickly make physical prototype parts. But some of these machines have started to cross over into the realm of production, turning out the final article or, in some cases, tooling components. Here’s a look at three such developments.
Subtractive Systems Now Handle Metal
The latest subtractive prototyping system from Roland Advanced Solutions Div. not only mills engineering plastics but can also take on metals, enabling the users to create prototype and production tooling with the new system. Called the MDX-540 SRP, the system combines a desktop 3-axis milling machine with simplified CAM software that quickly generates tool paths. Powered by a 400W motor, the milling machine has a higher-torque spindle than previous models from Roland, says David Olson, the company’s national sales manager. Aside from plastics, it’s capable of handling non-ferrous metals, including aluminum, brass and copper. This metals capability lets engineers create metal mold inserts for injection molding. The machine can also create production-ready graphite or copper sinker EDM electrodes. “With this system, we step up from prototyping into what I would call 'light production,’” says Olson. The system’s wizard-based CAM software, called “SRP Player,” generates tool paths and offers uniform 3D scaling, support for 4-axis milling and simulation of finished 3D parts before they go into milling. Options include a rotary axis and automatic tool changer, both of which can cut production time. Maximum work volume for the machine is 19.68 × 15.74 × 6.10 inches. Get more information on Roland Advanced Solutions.
Forecast Product Development’s Directed Manufacturing subsidiary has added laser-sintering capacity aimed not just at prototypes but also at production plastic parts. Last month, the company started running an EOSINT P-700 laser sintering machine from Germany’s EOS GmbH. Capable of running nylon and other materials, this dual-CO2-laser system features a big 28 × 15 × 23 inch build platform. “It’s the biggest laser sintering system on the market,” says Forecast Vice President Tory Sirkin. “And it gives us the speed and efficiency we need to make production parts.” A typical production run for Forecast’s Directed Manufacturing group ranges from 50 to 250 parts, including many parts whose geometries would be difficult or impossible to mold or machine. Next month, the company plans to add to its metal production capabilities with the addition of an EOS laser sintering machine capable of running cobalt chrome and 17-4 stainless steel. Get more information on laser sintering capacity.
Prototype Machines Tackle Production Parts
QuickParts, the online manufacturing services company, has been offering rapid prototyping services for some time now. The company’s line-up includes stereolithography, selective laser sintering (SLS) and more. What’s new is that some of the company’s customers have shown increased interest in using the rapid prototyping systems to make production parts, according to Sameer Vachani, Quickpart’s marketing director. One of them is Klipsch Audio Technologies. The company managed to turn a multi-piece injection- molded component for a theater speaker system into a single-piece component made from a nylon-like material on an SLS machine. According to Vachani, this internal speaker component is too complex to mold in one piece. But once it became a single SLS piece, production yield improved by 6 percent and assembly time was cut in half. Get more information on QuickParts.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.