Rapid 2011 Review

By Steve Robbins


Bertrand SicotI have just returned from this year’s SME Rapid event, which took place in Minneapolis. I have to say, the excitement level of this year’s show was much higher than the last couple of years. The attendance was good and the attendees who stopped by to talk with us were excited about using rapid technologies to accomplish their goals.

I found it interesting that many of the engineers we talked with were just considering their first 3D printer after working with a rapid prototype service bureau.

Outsource vs. in House
During a conversation with Bruce Bradshaw of Objet Geometries, we discussed how one of Objet’s clients, Trek Bicycle Corporation, had added rapid prototyping technology recently because its outsourced prototyping costs had hit the ceiling. After the new system had been online and running for a while, the design team found they could experiment and create new parts, then test them right away. This was a great advantage that helped them create better designs and build better bikes. If the engineers had to take their ideas to the weld shop and wait for an extended time for the parts to be returned, creativity takes a hit.

However, Trek hasn’t stopped using prototyping service bureaus altogether. It is allowing its designers to access 3D printing technology in a way that brings products to market faster, giving the company a competitive advantage.
Rapid Initiative Comes Together

During Rapid 2011, I also attended a meeting of a startup initiative that looks like it’s on the path to becoming an association. The Additive Manufacturing Branding Initiative (AMBI) is headed by Wilfried Vancraen, CEO of Materialize and Todd Grimm, an industry consultant who is acting as project manager. The 12 companies that initially provided funding for the project met at Euromold last December, and the AMBI has now grown to 18 companies.
At the Rapid 2011 AMBI meeting, Todd discussed the problem plaguing the additive manufacturing industry: A lot of design engineers are not aware of the how 3D printing could benefit their design processes and their companies’ bottom lines. I have noticed this at every Rapid show I have attended. You see attendees who have just seen a stereolithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS) printer for the first time. They just stand there, looking in the machine’s window, mesmerized. When I stop and talk with them, they almost always say, “I’ve read about this, but I just didn’t get it!”

The AMBI wants to get the word out on the use of 3D printing by telling great stories about how additive manufacturing technology can make a difference in creating great designs. You will be hearing more on this from DE as the initiative moves forward in the near future.

Slicing up Micromolds
There were a lot of amazing technologies on display at Rapid. One cool new technology at the show was CGI’s new Pearl-700, which cuts ultrathin slices from a micromolded parts to create a 3D point cloud of the part’s shape.
This high-resolution measuring technology creates an accurate model of the molded part by encasing it in plastic resin and then milling it and scanning it. Each 2D scan is then processed into a representation of the 3D shape. It is then imported into the inspection software to be checked against the original molded parts design. When I first saw the molded electronic component in its bed of resin, I thought, “Wow, someone sure screwed up on this part.” After the demo, I was impressed with the ability for inspection as well as reverse engineering of very small molded parts.

Overall, the use of rapid technologies is becoming more prevalent in the day-to-day activities of design engineering. Being able to access 3D printing technology in the workplace has proven to have benefits that often are not anticipated when the justification for the printer is presented to management.
DE has committed to conducting a rapid technologies survey in the near future and will share the results with our readers when it is finished. If you would like to share your experiences on how 3D printing and 3D scanning has enabled your designs, please send your stories to [email protected].

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communication and editorial director of DE. Send comments about this topic to [email protected].

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