Using 3D printing to build a better mousetrap


3D printing played a starring role in the 13th annual Golden Mousetrap Awards, which were handed out on February 11, 2014, during a standing-room-only ceremony in Anaheim, CA. It was the first time that the competition, which celebrates North America's design, engineering, and manufacturing sectors, included a 3D printing category. And the trophies that the winners received were manufactured by means of 3D printing, courtesy Stratasys, a supplier of 3D printing equipment and materials, and one of the sponsors of the Golden Mousetrap program. We spoke with Mike Block, Applications Engineer at Stratasys, who led the project.

Golden Mousetrap trophyDesign News, which produces the Golden Mousetraps program, wanted something creative to hand out, something more unique than just a plaque, says Block. That desire meshed perfectly with the seemingly unlimited capabilities of 3D printing, he says. "The trophy was based on a drawing of a half-circle feature on which the mousetrap is mounted. We ran ABS M30 ivory-colored material through our Fortus 400mc system to print the trophies," explains Block. The video embedded below shows the process from start to finish. (Please note: the video does not have an audio track.)

The Fortus 400mc is part of Stratasys' production series of printers designed for low-volume-quantity applications with good throughput and repeatability, says Block. Fifty statuettes were printed essentially overnight. It would have been prohibitive to manufacture them using conventional techniques, Block says.

"If you were going to go a traditional route, the trophies would have been molded from plastic. The [mousetrap's] spring feature would have been difficult to do, by the way," says Block. "The cost of CNC tooling, design iterations, and tooling adjustments would have been in the thousands of dollars," he notes. And that doesn't even factor in the design flexibility that 3D printing affords. "This technology breaks down traditional design barriers," says Block.

Advances in 3D printing have been coming along at a dizzying pace. Stratasys recently introduced the world's first color multimaterial 3D printer. The Objet500 Connex3 has the capability to achieve the characteristics of an assembled part without assembly or painting, thus saving a significant amount of time in design validation and potentially accelerating time to market. It has been described as a game changer, and led me to wonder what the next breakthrough in 3D printing might be. Manufacturing, replied Block without hesitation. "The next step is printing thousands of end use parts, not just parts for concept modeling, functional testing or fit-form-function purposes," says Block.

Norbert Sparrow

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