When will additive manufacturing be viewed as a viable technology for mass custom manufacturing? When we educate the manufacturing and production manager about the total costs of operations, notes Vyomesh Joshi (VJ), President and CEO, 3D Systems.
And 3D Systems plans to help educate manufacturing and production managers with the Figure 4 system, introduced last year. Figure 4 uses a DPL additive process that builds parts fast, up to 14 times faster than stereolithography.
Designers understand the benefits of additive, especially for prototyping. But manufacturers still need convincing about adopting additive for mass customization—which is a key application for additive technology. For the manufacturing managers, they need to know can they reproduce hundreds and thousands of the same part reliably? Are the materials used durable? Do they deliver the needed quality without a lot of additional post processing?
Before additive systems can take their rightful place on a manufacturing plant floor, additive vendors need to make their case. 3D Systems is doing that with its modular, scalable and fully integrated additive manufacturing platform based on the Figure 4.
A few numbers to consider:
If a manufacturer needed to produce one million parts using traditional stereolithography systems, he/she would need 225 SL printers versus one Figure 4 configured with 16 print engines. This Figure 4 arrangement would have an annual throughput 225 times more than the equivalent SL system.
Traditional SL systems would need 26 times more plant floor space and 45 times more labor, notes Joshi. The labor cost would also be 4 times more with traditional SL, and the initial investment would be 23 times more. And a key metric, the cost per part would be 71% lower with the Figure 4 in a 16 print engine arrangement.
The company recently shipped the first system to a Fortune 50 industrial customer, and plans to ramp customer-specific shipments throughout the second half of 2017.
“We believe our breakthrough Figure 4 platform will revolutionize manufacturing by transforming production of both mass customized and complex end use parts with a compelling total cost of operations versus conventional methods,” says Joshi. “While others are realizing the need to transition from prototyping to production, we are delivering real solutions across all key vertical markets and applications that are helping customers solve problems today.”
As part of its vertical strategy, 3D Systems is unveiling a Figure 4 platform for the multibillion-dollar dental industry, which will use NextDent materials.
These materials are not PLA. 3D Systems, though NextDent is developing custom materials for this application. Other materials will be developed to meet specific customer needs across healthcare, aerospace, automotive and durable goods industries. The chemistry in these materials suits the DPL additive technology to produce hundreds of thousands of custom parts cost effectively.
Dental applications are a natural fit for this system, especially when you consider the potential to build 180 billion custom teeth, noted Joshi.
As a scalable system, a dentist could use one, or a dental factory could connect a number of these units together to mass-produce custom teeth.
The build size of the Figure 4 is 2 in. by 4 in. by 13 in.