3D Printers

3D Printing Cross Platform Adoption & A Mindset Change in Prototyping at Hyphen

The latest customer story from Stratasys tells a nice story but also throws up a couple of interesting trends in cross platform applications when it comes to 3D printing. The story comes from Christie Digital Systems an OEM of commercial digital projectors for a wide range of industry sectors. Having developed an extensive in-house rapid prototyping centre, called Hyphen, that now utilizes Stratasys’ top-end 3D printing processes — both Fortus and Connex — to rigorously test and explore their own product development, the company is also a an experienced service provider.

According to Mark Barfoot, Managing Director at Hyphen, employing both Stratasys’ FDM and Connex 3D printing technologies has enabled the product development team to focus on ensuring customers get the perfect design before the final mould is produced. “The main benefit is that when we go to market, the product is manufactured right the first time, ensuring our customers get something that has been optimised specifically for them. We’ve seen a real mind-set change in our engineers. They are no longer willing to live with one prototype and hope it works, but instead are now iterating daily to ensure they get the optimum design.”

This is one of the oldest and the best advantages of 3D printing, particularly in an industrial setting. I’ve said it before, and will no doubt repeat myself again in the future — it’s often overlooked amidst the consumer and manufacturing excitement around 3D printing. But to hear a company like this talking about “a real mind-set change” is so encouraging, and, I believe, reflected quietly across many other sectors.

Hyphen also has an in-house environmental testing facility, where all of its 3D printed prototypes are put through their paces, including testing with extreme heat and vibration, enabling the identification of potential field failures or other issues early in the product development cycle.

“The Stratasys FDM process creates functional prototypes that have high heat deflection temperatures and exceptional chemical and solvent resistance, which is essential for us, as some projectors need products that must withstand very high temperatures,” commented Barfoot. “The materials are an exact match of the final product, so whether we are doing vibration or drop-testing, EMI, or thermal, they will behave very similar to the final injection moulded parts.”

For more rubber-like materials, the company turned to Stratasys’ PolyJet-based Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, which enables the team at Hyphen to combine rigid and flexible material properties.

According to Bruce Bradshaw, Director of Marketing at Stratasys, this is a growing trend, but hardly unsurprising: “We are seeing more and more companies combining PolyJet and FDM 3D printed parts in the same products – enabling true functional realism during the design phase. By producing working prototypes that can be tested in extreme conditons, manufacturers can more easily evaluate product features and continue to make iterative changes until the optimal design is achieved.”

A particularly eye-catching application that Hyphen developed for the medical sector involved a prototype using both 3D printing platforms for the VeinViewer® product, which is an innovative device that utilizes near-infrared light to detect subcutaneous blood and instantly projects a real-time image of the patient’s veins directly onto the surface of the skin. Designed to help improve peripheral vascular access, the VeinViewer imaging system is currently being used in facilities in more than 40 countries around the world.

“Having the ability to introduce both technologies into the product development process was critical to perfecting the design and functionality of this product,” says Barfoot. “Using the PolyJet system allowed us to trial the product using rubber over-moulding and achieve a smooth surface finish, which gave us an accurate prototype to test with nurses early on in the process. With the FDM technology we were able to build functional parts, allowing us to conduct drop tests well before we got to tooling.”

You can get a better idea of precisely how this was achieved by watching the video below: