|Rapid tooling patterns and masters in ABS just took a giant step up in size with the introduction of a new FDM system called Quantum, Automotive, aerospace, and information technology markets are driving the trend toward larger build areas for low-volume rapid tools. According to Stratasys' Jon Cobb, compaines such as Sun Microsystems, Motorola, Westinghouse, and Whirlpool are at the leading edge of this demand.|
Before we go any further, however, let's take a moment to answer a question many readers have undoubtedly asked themselves. What is the bottom-line benefit of rapid prototyping for tooling? IMM checked with automotive OEM Fiat to find out why it invested in an RP system.
Fiat wanted to find a way to lower costs of molded parts for limited-edition vehicles, those that reach about 400 annually in production volume. One such part, a front-door window guide, was selected as a benchmark project to determine the benefits of rapid prototyping. Designers sent the CAD file to an FDM 1650 and built an ABS pattern master prototype. The pattern master was then sprayed with metal to create the low-volume core and cavity set. And the results: the sprayed-metal tool vs. traditional tooling took six and a half weeks from concept to tool rather than 30 weeks, at a tool cost of $18,000 vs. $30,000. Success gave Fiat the green light for future rapid prototyping projects.
A corollary to this type of benefit involves molders and OEMs, who often send out part models for tooling quotations. That was the case at Cutler-Hammer, an Eaton Corp. division that makes industrial controls. Using a rapid prototype modeled in ABS material, designers were able to send the actual RP part out to moldmakers for quotations. Because the part left no ambiguities, toolmakers were able to deliver lower quotes, with reductions estimated at 8 to 12 percent.
|A touch-screen interface called TouchWorks offers users a quick display of machine status as well as a self-diagnostic program. A magnetically controlled extrusion head inside the unit rides on an air bearing for greater velocity and accuracy.|
Xerox Corp., a long-time Stratasys customer, performed some beta testing for the Quantum. "Xerox was interested mainly in ease of use," recalls Cobb. Five employees from the tool shop were trained to operate the system, which uses a touch-screen control that can be networked into a manufacturer's Windows NT or Unix computer system via ethernet or 10 Base T. According to Cobb, the training process was completed in a few days.
Stratasys begins shipping the Quantum this month. Prices range from $325,000 to $435,000, comparing favorably to SLA and SLS systems in the more than $400,000 range.