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July 22, 1998

3 Min Read
Prototypes Overnight


ArticleImage1101.gif

Even precision rapid prototypes
like this panel can be created and
delivered to your desk the day after
Materialise receives the electronic file.

cCOLOR>ombining its software expertise and patented rapid prototyping production technology with a unique logistical system, Materialise, located in Leuven, Belgium, has begun overnight delivery of stereolithography (STL) prototypes anywhere in western Europe. The service, appropriately called Materialise Next Day, starts with an STL file generated by a 3-D CAD system. You can send the file by Internet to Materialise. If it is received by noon CET, a precise epoxy model made by STL will arrive at your location before noon the next day.

Software Drives the Service

The Next Day service is simple, fast, and transparent. Why, you might wonder, are there not more companies offering it? The reason may be the combination of elements needed to make it work. Chief among those, according to Materialise, is its own Next Day software. Licensed to clients without cost, it enables them to check and verify the STL file for flaws. It finds planes that don't match, voids, bad contours, or any of the other tiny defects that need correcting before prototyping. When the file is received at Materialise, the project can go straight into production without delay.

The software is Windows-based (it runs under Windows95 or NT 4.0), and includes a Wizard that guides the user through the complete procedure. When the file is verified, the software uses your Internet connection to reach Materialise and transmit the file. Within minutes, you have a quotation for approval. At the same time, production capacity is reserved and your part is in the production queue. You can exit the process at any time, and you are told upfront if the queue is full for next day delivery. You can pay by credit card in an encrypted transfer, or establish an account.


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It takes a system approach
to deliver quality epoxy
protytypes in one day, but
the no-cost software
provided by Materialise
ensures the file is ready
to prototype when sent in.

Proprietary STL Technology

Another crucial element is the STL technology itself. Materialise has designed and built the patented stereolithography machine used in the Next Day service. Using a technology called "curtain coating," new layers are made by moving a liquid curtain over the build plateau. The resin is pumped continuously, resulting in an uninterrupted flow of a thin, film-like layer of resin. The curtain moves fast, but is precisely controlled so layer thickness is exact. Recoating time, which normally might be about 50 seconds, is reduced to a few seconds. Layer thickness of .2 mm, instead of the usual .12 mm, also boosts speed with no apparent negative effect on prototype quality.

Materialise is not a newcomer to rapid prototyping. The company has been making STL models for more than seven years, and also makes prototypes by laser sintering, 3-D plotting, and high-speed milling. Copying techniques include spin casting, investment casting, rubber-plaster moulding, and vacuum casting. One specialty is medical models made from scanned images that are used for rehearsing complicated surgical procedures. Besides Next Day software, Materialise has developed many other rapid prototyping software tools.

Making It Work

Physical logistics of the Next Day service are also critical. A file is received by noon. The prototype is made in the afternoon and evening and is complete, including sandblasting, by about 1900 hours. It is packed and taken to DHL's facility at the Brussels airport, which is 10 minutes away. Materialise places the packages directly into DHL's handling system, rather than waiting at a counter. Because Brussels is the European hub for DHL, the package goes directly to its destination overnight and is delivered the next morning.--Robert Neilley

Contact Information
Materialise N.V.
Ireen Laarakker, Project Manager
Kapeldreef 60
B-3001 Leuven, Belgium
Tel: +32 (16) 298 363
Fax: +32 (16) 298 319
e-mail: [email protected]
website: www.materialise.be

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