A new metal-forming technology allows mechanical designs
never before possible with traditional manufacturing processes.
Called MQast, the process uses additive fabrication to form
intricate, bending channels and very tight tolerances from fully dense aluminum
or stainless steel. One potential use could be microfluidic channels in the
tips of channels manufactured for surgical instruments.
"This should really open up design," says Scott Turner,
president of Scicon Technologies of Valencia, CA. "We don't want engineers to
think about the constraints of a process. We want them to make the best
possible design and then tell us to make it."
Scicon, a rapid prototyping and manufacturing service
bureau, partnered with 3D Systems of Rock Hill, SC, to form MQast, a new
company based in Valencia, CA.
The new metal-forming technology is based on research originally
done by Charles W. Hull, the chief technology officer of 3D Systems and the inventor of
stereolithography, creating the rapid prototyping industry in the 1980s.
"The MQast process delivers aluminum or stainless steel
parts directly from CAD in days, and the parts are ideally suited for
aerospace, medical and automotive applications," says Hull.
The technology was announced at Rapid 2009, an industry
conference being held in Schaumburg,
Officials would not disclose any of the technology or
equipment used in MQast, although the technology is based on additive systems
that build layers of material in tiny increments. The process is best for
complex designs, and is usually only economic in low volumes. However, MQast could become a series process if no exisiting technology such as
injection molding or casting can replicate the design. One of the benefits of
additive fabrication is that no molds are required and parts can be delivered
quickly. Disadvantages are that individual part production is slow and
materials can be expensive.
The current build envelope is a 10-inch square. Orders can be
placed on line using .stl files at www.mqast.com.