Peter van der Meulen is Director of VDM Kunststoftechniek, a product development company in the Netherlands, and he became aware of the potential of 3D printing about three years ago. As a specialist in manufacturing plastic extrusion profiles with click fasteners he found the process of making realistic prototypes more than a little troublesome due to the accuracy required for reliable snap-fits. One of the greatest obstacles was achieving accuracy of 0.1 mm to produce secure profiles that would remain ‘clicked-in’ – after all, a part that easily detaches in such an application is next to useless. As an example, many of the profiles manufactured by Van der Meulen end up on pieces of furniture for attaching pieces of fabric to the steel frames – an application that demands accuracy and reliability.
Creating a realistic and functional prototype requires more than just ‘trial and error’ procedures. In order to get a clear picture of how a snap connection works (given the final material and the method of production), Van der Meulen had to make a complete mould, which he subsequently adjusted based on initial results, assisted by his craftsmanship, experience and instincts. This provided him with a reliable enough model in 8-10 weeks. In today’s market, two months for this type of product development is unnacceptable – ‘time to market’ is key.
According to Van der Meulen, it is not the matrix itself that is expensive and time-consuming to make, but the unit behind this, the so-called ‘calibration unit’ that conditions the profile.
Van der Meulen’s initial research into 3D printing as a solution proved disappointing, until he discovered the Perfactory 3D printing process from envisionTEC. The precision of this 3D printer met his needs and allowed him to quickly and accurately produce the parts he needed, and show his customers the results quickly, moreover, he was also able to suggest alternatives.
In addition, Van der Meulen has also been able to profitably utilise the envisionTEC 3D printer for other projects, most recently he has been printing moulds and has achieved good results with a mould he printed for ‘blowmoulding’, which is used for blowing plastic bottles. For this application he uses one of the strongest materials envisionTEC currently offers – HTM140, filled with a ceramic powder. In due course he also wants to create extrusion moulds in this way, starting with trial and smaller series. Van der Meulen explained: “This material can be cooled down very well. A temperature drop of up to 40 degrees is feasible by using water for cooling when the cooling ducts have been printed along closely underneath the surface. This makes it interesting for small, rapidly changing series.”
VDM now also offers a range of services, similar to a service agency. Van der Meulen: “The machine provides many possibilities for us, a lot more than I originally thought and with a build volume 100 x 160 x 230 mm, it is very flexible. ” The company offers 3D printed parts in all of the envisionTEC materials, and also prints models for lost core moulding applications and has undertaken some medical projects involving producing prototypes for surgeons for the preparation of complicated operations.