Rapid Prototyping Speeds Up

June 17, 2009
The time is approaching when rapid prototyping will be unnecessary in some instances, because rapid metalcasting will make more sense.
There are numerous processes that manufacturers may use to achieve direct manufacturing of metal parts, and various production systems for each process. One process is direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS), for which EOS GmbH offers the EOSINT M 270. This technology fuses metal powder into a solid part by melting it “locally” with a laser beam. Parts are formed layer by layer, without any tooling, but highly complex shapes can be created directly from 3D CAD data over a few hours.

Among all the problems that metalcasters face — quality, cost, competition — time wouldn’t seem to be too critical. However, depending on the production program and the technologies in use, time can make the all the difference. In fact, one producer of metalcastings is making a bit of news because it believes speed is the key to its success.

“We couldn’t find a word in the American dictionary which accurately defined the speed at which we do business,” explains Clinkenbeard, “so we developed a prototype ... Fasterest. We think it fits perfectly.”

There’s a wink in this telling, because Clinkenbeard is a rapid prototyper. It produces complex cast and machined parts (in plastics as well as metal), for a variety of customers.

Typically, prototypes are used by manufacturers to develop models prior to full-series production. They help sales representatives pitch a new design, for example, or they can be used to identify potential packaging or shipping problems. Casting designers may use prototypes to plot production plans, and metalcasters may use a prototype in preparing a mold. Many producers of prototypes (including Clinkenbeard) were established as patternmakers, giving an insight into the concepts that still define prototyping.

Rapid prototypes are something more — they’re produced by specialized machines at accelerated rates, directly from CAD designs. For metalcasters, rapid prototypes can provide accurate designs and patterns quickly and reliably, but they are emerging as something entirely new. The time is coming for rapid manufacturing.

Note that already Clinkenbeard is identifying itself as a producer of “rapid sand castings.” Others, including Pro- Metal and ProtoCAM, and more, have similar strategies. These operations use a range of production processes, including stereolithography, laser sintering, and fused deposition modeling, as well as many others.

With its patented Clinkenbeard Toolingless Process, the company contends its customers enjoy accuracy in production and “the fastest turnaround times” for metalcastings, with suitably lower product-development costs.

Solid Concepts Acquires Conceptual Reality
Recently, Troy, MI-based Solid Concepts Inc. acquired Conceptual Reality, increasing its rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing customer base, and expanding its capacity, expertise, and range of services. Solid

Concepts Inc. is a supplier of rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing services, Conceptual Reality’s customers now have access to prototypes, patterns, and parts manufactured from additional technologies, including PolyJet, CNC, QuantumCast advanced cast urethanes, and FRP, and the availability of overseas tooling and injection molding services with local project management.

It specializes in producing high-temperature ferrous-alloy and aluminum castings. The products are CNC-machined on site and supplied on a turnkey, time-critical basis. Many of its customers are aerospace suppliers or OEMs, including defense manufacturers. (Earlier this year, Clinkenbeard earned the U.S. State Dept.’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations registration, demonstrating it conforms to manufacturing and commercial standards for defense suppliers.)

“U.S. defense and government markets are key segments of our business,” Clinkenbeard president Ron Gustafson explained in April. “This certification is evidence of our commitment and ability to safeguard all defense- and government- related data for our customers and our country and our government‘s trust in our doing so.”

In terms of a market strategy, there is a predictable emphasis on accuracy and cost, but there “timesaving” is becoming a notable aspect of the message, too. Rapid metalcasting is presented as a sensible approach for low-volume or small-lot production, for replacement parts, or for incorporating engineering changes into existing designs.

Some of Clinkenbeard’s aerospace customers and prospects will get the message in a new way this month when the company’s project manager will communicate directly from the Paris Air Show. Reg Gustafson will be blogging and Twittering through the June 15-17 event, using social media to build and reinforce relationships and to provide information about trends, developments, and products there.

New SLA “Fleet” for Acu-Cast
3D Systems Corp.
, recently outfitted its customer Acu-Cast Technologies with its sixth iPro 8000 SLA center. The iPro SLAs produce high-quality parts with accuracy, surface smoothness, feature resolution, edge definition, and tolerances comparable to CNCmachined parts, according to 3D Systems.

Acu-Cast Technologies calls itself “a one-stop shop” for rapid prototyping and short-run manufacturing, using stereolithography and selective laser sintering, to produce aluminum and zinc castings, as well as plastic components. It performs high-speed machining, too.

3D reports that Acu-Cast’s investment in six new SLA systems has helped it to gain an 18% productivity improvement in its rapid manufacturing and prototyping activities. It’s now the largest owner/operator of 3D’s iPro™ SLA® Centers in the world. The system supplier explains Acu-Cast measured its part-building productivity for 45 days before and after converting and installing six SLA machines in late 2008.