I first saw 3D Systems Figure 4 platform at an AMUG Conference. Since then, the company has made some changes to it that make it a modular, scalable, fully-integrated direct 3D production platform. (The name Figure 4 comes from the fourth 2D drawing of the idea.)
Available in standalone and production configurations, the Figure 4 platform combines services, technology, materials and software to help bridge the tasks from rapid prototyping to full production.
The Figure 4 platform incorporates high-speed digital molding, a process that speeds and simplifies the production of plastic parts — enabling manufacturers to match the accuracy, reliability, repeatability and uptime of traditional injection molding.
According to 3D Systems, Figure 4’s fast print technology combined with production-grade materials enables up to 15x throughput improvements versus competitive offerings, at up to 20% lower cost of current manufacturing processes.
The technology behind Figure 4 has roots in the early days of the company. In 1983, 3D Systems’ co-founder and current Chief Technology Officer, Chuck Hull, filed a patent for the first stereolithography (SLA) printer, which included many of the processes and ideas found in the new Figure 4 systems.
A modular platform
Figure 4 is a flexible production system with models to meet various production needs from standalone units to factory solutions for aerospace, automotive, healthcare, dental, durable goods and service bureaus.
The Figure 4 hardware lineup includes four models:
–Figure 4 Production is completely customizable with the ability to scale as users’ business and manufacturing needs grow. Completely automated, the same or similar functional production parts can be built in high volume with an in-line production configuration and integrated post-processing. Automated material delivery and integrated post-processing reduce labor requirements – increasing productivity and lowering total cost of operation.
–Figure 4 Modular provides customers with an upgradable and affordable direct 3D production solution that includes automated materials-handling and centralized post processing. It is designed to grow with a customer’s business as they move from prototyping to production. With operation from a master control box, each modular unit can produce multiple unique parts simultaneously.
–Figure 4 Standalone is an affordable, industrial-grade single engine solution for low volume production and rapid functional prototyping. For small design shops and OEMs, it provides economical print volume at low cost.
–Figure 4 Dental is a single-engine, independent 3D printer with central post-processing for dental production, prototyping and sacrificial casting. 3D Systems’ portfolio of biocompatible materials enables this unit to address more than 10 indications.
Figure 4 solutions are designed to break down barriers found with traditional manufacturing processes, giving customers streamlined and efficient access to superior quality parts with minimal effort. All Figure 4 configurations come integrated with 3D Systems’ 3D Sprint and 3D Connect software.
3D Sprint helps address all aspects of print preparation from CAD model repair to automatic placement and support of the part on the print platform – while being able to submit and monitor jobs in the print queue.
3D Systems’ newest solution, 3D Connect, a cloud-based software solution, delivers proactive and predictive serviceability for production environments.
3D Connect is comprised of two solutions: 3D Connect Service and 3D Connect Manage. 3D Connect Service provides a secure, cloud-based connection to 3D Systems’ service team for proactive and preventative maintenance of the printer. Proactive scheduled maintenance and service alerts with remote diagnostics allow 3D Systems’ service personnel to either solve problems remotely or mobilize a technician on-site, equipped with the necessary parts for repair.
3D Connect Manage allows customers to securely and remotely monitor the status of one printer or a fleet of printers, as well as view comprehensive and historical data to more effectively understand the utilization of their printer fleet. Customers can view and analyze a number of metrics such as materials usage and utilization rates, as well as receive real-time text and email alerts based on conditions they specify (e.g., job complete).
Expanding the materials portfolio
3D Systems also launched 15 new materials to be used in industrial and dental applications with the Figure 4 platform. Materials include those for production parts, including rapid prototyping, elastic, clear, tough (functional) and high temperature consumables.
The new functional plastics only require curing in bright light, making the entire process fast; delivering up to 15x faster throughput. Each Figure 4 system can print biocompatible materials, as well as those with elastomeric properties. All materials feature the same durability as traditionally manufactured parts, with high accuracy and surface finish.
The Figure 4 solutions will range in price from approximately $25,000 to over $1 million. General availability for the various Figure 4 configurations is planned to be staged across 2018:
–Figure 4 Production and Figure 4 Dental are planned for Q2 2018.
–Figure 4 Modular and Figure 4 Standalone are planned for Q3 2018.