“If you have your CAD file, your warehouse is your computer.”
That is how Jeff DeGrange, Vice President of Direct Digital Manufacturing for Stratasys, summed up the product-lifecycle advantage of rapid prototyping during an interview with AEI in advance of the SAE 2013 World Congress April 16-18 in Detroit (the company will exhibit under the name Objet at booth #915).
“If you need to make spare parts in the future for whatever model plane or car, for whatever part categories, you download your file, print it with the materials you need, and do on-demand manufacturing in order to have the lowest cost of ownership for the product as possible—and improve support of the product," said DeGrange. "That’s versus pulling down a tool out of a warehouse, shipping it to where it needs to go, and scheduling it into a traditional manufacturing process. That all goes away.”
It’s the up-front advantage of rapid prototyping, though, for which the technology is best known. Stratasys was one of the pioneers of rapid prototyping (known more widely in the general population as 3-D printing) in the late 1980s and counts among the world leaders today as the technology is fast gaining appeal far beyond its traditional large-industry consumer base.
As its name implies, the technology allows for the rapid creation of prototype parts directly from CAD data in a relatively small piece of equipment, in a short period of time (hours vs. days, week, or even months), and in the confines of an engineering office. There are several types of rapid prototyping technologies, all of which add material to create a part from scratch rather than remove material from a workpiece as in conventional machining.
Making rapid prototyping machines is at the core of what Stratasys does, but the company is also heavily involved in what DeGrange calls direct digital manufacturing (DDM): building tools and parts for end use (vs. prototypes). DeGrange, who worked for Boeing for 21 years and led the airplane maker’s additive manufacturing activities, now leads Stratasys in that same type of activity.
Stratasys makes machines that cover both rapid prototyping and DDM. It has three core technologies: FDM (fusion deposition modeling) for functional prototypes and production parts requiring materials that replicate the end product; inkjet-based PolyJet for prototyping parts with high feature detail and fine surface finish; and Solidscape thermoplastic ink-jetting technology for complex wax patterns for investment casting of finished parts.
The company has been strongly promoting its Objet 1000 large-format 3-D printer developed by Objet Ltd., which merged with Stratasys Inc. in December to become Stratasys Ltd. The Objet 1000 machine is large at about 2.8 x 1.8 x 1.8 m (9.2 x 5.9 x 5.9 ft) and offers a large build envelope of 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.4 x 31.5 x 19.7 in). It allows for inkjet 3-D printing of large parts at full-scale, “ideal for automotive, defense and aerospace,” and other industries.