At the recent AMUG Conference in St. Louis, many conversations focused on taking 3D printing / additive manufacturing (3DP/AM) more into manufacturing rather than just prototyping. Over the next few years, you will see a number of product introductions and systems that demonstrate more manufacturing capability. 3D Systems, though, demonstrated such an approach at AMUG with its Figure 4 system.
This mini manufacturing operation combines stereolithograhy with robots to streamline and automate an AM workflow that can replace or complement traditional manufacturing workflows.
Chuck Hull, Inventor of stereolithography, and Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, 3D Systems, notes that the 3D printing technology is well suited as a material development delivery tool. “A key is that the amount of material that it takes is very small. So we aren’t bound with the user requirement of stereolithography where the material has to be very stable for 1 year, 2 years or 3 years.”
With this additive manufacturing development kit, and the speed of Figure 4, you can get physical properties that include high temperature, toughness, elastomerics and bio-compatibility.
“The technology is so fast,” says Patrick Dunne, VP, Advanced Applications, 3D Systems, “that you can pull geometry, you can pull 100 ml from a 250 ml vat so rapidly that you can now tolerate extremely unstable chemistries—chemistries that we would never consider using in the past.”
Part of the benefit is that vat life no longer needs to meet a time frame of a couple of years. It can now be days or even a few hours, enabling a wider range of materials.
The Figure 4 is a configurable system. You can pick and choose the parts that you want and fit them into the workflow and stream of your factory.
“After 30 years of bringing this sort of technology up through prototyping and up through various kinds of manufacturing applications,” says Hull, “it feels really good now to see it starting to go towards mainstream manufacturing.”