Rather than creating physical prototypes and sending them halfway around the world for review and evaluation, some companies are drastically cutting development cycles by transmitting merely the electronic data describing the physical product. A 3D prototype is then created at the receiver's end. Coined "3D faxing," this process is growing in popularity among engineering groups, says Marina Hatsopoulos, CEO of Z Corporation, whose 3D printing technology fabricates physical 3D models directly from a computer file. Among companies that plan to use 3D faxing is Motorola, who currently uses Z-Corp.'s rapid prototyping technology for cell phone design work. Hatsopoulos describes a major consumer products company that makes strollers and car seats who recently jumped on the 3D faxing bandwagon: "Engineers e-mail their CAD files to a production facility in Asia, where the design is 'printed' and the physical part is reviewed for manufacturability. The Asian production group adds any changes to the design, and emails it back to the U.S. for printing and review." Major benefits? Rapid feedback and the ability to do iterative design collaboration.
Two new technologies from Stratasys, created in partnership with Boeing, Ford, and Siemens, will bring accurate, repeatable manufacturing of very large thermoplastic end products, and much bigger composite parts, onto the factory floor for industries including automotive and aerospace.
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