While 3D printing has exploded on the scene with ready-made prototypes and spare parts, many have insisted the technology is suited for manufacturing. 3D printing company, Stratasys, has taken a step into low-volume manufacturing and mass customization with its Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator. The tool uses additive manufacturing technology for product production.
The new platform is composed of a modular unit with multiple 3D print cells working simultaneously. The Demonstrator is driven by a central, cloud-based architecture that is designed to produce parts in a continuous stream with only minor operator intervention, automatically ejecting completed parts and commencing new ones.
Individual Products, Mass Produced
Stratasys built the 3D-print production platform on its Fortus technology. “The Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator represents innovations that builds on our production-ready Fortus technology combined with advanced materials that are in use today,” Roger Kelesoglu, director of sales at Stratasys, told Design News . “Fortus systems are being used for manufacturing flight-ready parts for aerospace applications. In factories, the systems are producing tools, jigs, and fixtures. It’s also being used in vertical industry segments, including automotive and medical, among others.”
With the new Demonstrator, 3D print cells can produce a variety of different jobs to help enable mass customization projects. Stratasys notes that additional cells can be added at any time to the scalable platform to increase production capacity as demand requires. Automatic queue management, load balancing, and architecture redundancy are deployed to further lead to accelerated throughput as jobs are automatically routed to available print cells. If a single print cell fails, the job can be automatically rerouted to the next available cell.
Engaging Customers in Developing the Platform
The manufacturing platform was initially created for production within Stratasys. Once developed, the company decided to offer it to customers. “The Demonstrator was prompted by experience in our own business, since we have been scaling to produce larger volumes of parts,” said Kelesoglu. “Then, in order to define requirements, we used feedback from customers who were looking for breakthroughs to help them scale the advantages of 3D printing to deliver higher volumes.”
Kelesoglu noted that the Demonstrator fills a manufacturing gap that cannot be solved by conventional manufacturing processes. “There is a whitespace, greenfield opportunity to produce lower volumes and even mass customization that is not today served by traditional manufacturing methods,” said Kelesoglu. “The costs associated with setup and tooling in traditional manufacturing make the economics of lower-volume production challenging. This platform solves that problem.”
Stratasys noted that target applications for the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator include education RP labs and environments that can benefit from zero tooling production and from a zero-inventory supply chain. A variety of Stratasys customers, including designers and manufacturers, have are now using the platform to enhance their production or explore new business opportunities. “We see broad adoption in production of plastic and composite products, where parts