March 2016

WHY WE LOVE ADDITIVE TECH (AND YOU SHOULD TOO!)

WHY WE LOVE ADDITIVE TECH (AND YOU SHOULD TOO!)

Written by Rachel Park

For more than 20 years I have enjoyed the privilege of observing and commentating on the additive technology sector across a number of different channels. During that time, as you may expect, there have been many comings and goings, many significant developments and a growing number of compelling applications of 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

At the most basic level, the differentiating principle behind 3D printing processes is that they are additive processes and therefore fundamentally different from any other existing traditional manufacturing technique. While it may seem like a silly thing to say, given 25 years or more of hindsight, in the beginning it took a while for this to take hold and for companies to grasp where these technologies could bring tremendous time and cost benefits. This can still be a barrier today actually. Essentially though 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies make it possible to produce complex parts and geometries that were previously either impossible or wholly cost-prohibitive.

Ogle Models & Prototypes is one company that understood the potential of additive technologies early. For a company that works with a wide range of clients from many different industry sectors each with different needs and requirements that relate to the sector they work in and specific product development and manufacturing projects, additive tech was a great fit. Today Ogle works with a range of processes and techniques to fulfill the needs of its clients but one area where the company is able to stand out is with 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Over the years Ogle has garnered experience and expertise working with industrial additive platforms, pushing the boundaries and understanding the trade-offs between different additive processes to better serve their clients.

Prototyping remains a dominant application. Indeed, 3D printing, historically, was called Rapid Prototyping because the sole application of the tech was to produce prototypes, relatively quickly. Relative, that is, to the traditional timescales of weeks, sometimes months, involved in producing industrial prototypes within a typical product development process. “Rapid Prototyping” is actually a bit of a misnomer though — additive processes are not particularly quick particularly for large and substantial builds of functional prototypes, which can take up to three days in some cases. Add in the preparation times for fixing 3D CAD models and conversion to STL files as well as the finishing operations required once the build comes out the machine and we’re maybe talking a week. But, compared with 6-12 weeks for the equivalent prototype with traditional methods, it is actually pretty rapid! Today Rapid Prototyping is just one of many application areas for industrial 3D printing / additive manufacturing. As the processes have matured and improved dramatically in terms of hardware, software and materials they are increasingly being utilized for more stringent applications including tooling and final parts.

Improvements and steady growth have continued with industrial 3D printing over the last decade, but in parallel, a plethora of cheap desktop machines have also hit the market and contributed to a great deal of hype about 3D printing per se. Apart from the often misinformed mass media, one of the main reasons that the hype has been so overblown is because of the unrecognised dichotomy between industrial 3D printers and desktop 3D printers. The perception to the lay-person is that a 3D printer is a 3D printer is a 3D printer. This is just not the case — and the reason why context for any given application is vital — whether plastic landfill from a £300 machine or a functional metal aerospace component from a £1.5 million machine — and anything in between.

Having developed a friendly and ongoing relationship with the team at Ogle over the years what is clear to me is their commitment and belief in industrial 3D printing. As with any industrial process, it requires dedicated expertise and insight but they have been doing this for 20 years now are still finding new and exciting applications, particularly as they continue to expand their technology base. These 20 years with 3D printing also have a historical context because Ogle has been producing models and prototypes for more than 60 years now. So with a full range of traditional processes AND with industrial SLA, SLS and FDM platforms in house, Ogle has never been better placed to ensure clients, whether large OEMs or SMEs, get the best possible results in their prototypes and parts from the most appropriate process. And every time I visit, or meet them at a show, they still seem to be having fun doing it. Industrial applications are increasing almost by the month with more and more complex prototypes, tools for short-run production, even low volume final parts and one-off models regularly filling Ogle’s machines.

A trend I have noticed is that as well as producing “impossible” parts for clients, the Ogle team is increasingly working with clients to optimise existing products with 3D printing by way of making parts more light weight and structurally stronger using both SLS and FDM processes and specific materials. OEMS and their 2nd and 3rd tiers suppliers in the automotive, aerospace and medical sectors in particular are increasingly realising these advantages.

However, while there are some incredible benefits to be harnessed with 3D printing it is vital to understand that the different types of 3D printers employ different technologies that each process different materials in different ways. Thus one of the most basic limitations of 3D printing — in terms of materials and applications — is that there is no ‘one solution fits all’. This is why Ogle runs three distinct 3D printing processes:

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) — A powder-based process that utilizes a light/heat source (in the form of a laser) to sinter/melt layers of the powder together in the defined shape.
  • Stereolithography (SLA) — Processes polymer resin materials by utilizing a laser to solidify the resin in ultra thin layers.
  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) — And industrial machines that extrudes very strong plastic materials through a heated extruder to form layers and create the predetermined shape.

It is this diversity that means Ogle can provide holistic solutions for their clients, and long may they continue to do so.

About The Author

Rachel Park is an accomplished print and web writer and editor with more than 24 years’ experience. Her specific area of expertise is the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing sector, a market she has been immersed in since 1996.

Rachel works as an independent freelance journalist and runs her own copywriting and editing business.

 

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