by Jim Lorincz – Senior Editor – AdvancedManufacturing.org
The 3D printing landscape has changed dramatically since the 1988 commercialization of stereolithography (SL). There have been substantial advances in software and materials that sync with increasing computer power and growth in the 3D CAD installed base. Most notably, there has been a surge of new technologies and market entrants. Both new and established users of 3D printing are faced with a formidable task of choosing whether to place their investment dollars in the promises of emerging technology or continued expansion in proven technologies.
For more than 20 years, Aerosport Modeling & Design (Canal Winchester, OH) has offered specialized services to a wide array of industrial design applications—from military and medical to automotive and aerospace. In 2017, Aerosport Modeling & Design invested in one of the industry’s newest technologies, HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printer. At the same time, Aerosport also continued investment in stereolithography (SL), a core technology for the company since its founding in 1996, by adding another SL machine to its lineup in 2017.
Aerosport chose a machine from one of the largest manufacturers of stereolithography equipment today, Union Tech Inc. (St. Charles, IL). While many see UnionTech as a recent entrant to international markets, the company pioneered stereolithography in China beginning in 2000 and has grown to become the largest domestic supplier there. UnionTech has grown in an environment of intense competition from other SL manufacturers as well as a strong CNC-machined prototype industry.
Such competition has forged the current Pilot commercial series and RSPro production series into robustly constructed machines that produce highly accurate parts very cost effectively with any of the 355-nm stereolithography materials available.
“We wanted a large platform machine that could perform at a level of quality and cost effectiveness that was above the other machines currently being offered on the market,” said Geoff Combs, owner of Aerosport Modeling & Design. “I have been in the industry for over 20 years, so hearing promises and statistics about a machine’s capability was nothing new to me. After seeing some sample parts from the RSPro 600 that displayed the quality and backed up the company’s claims, we decided to purchase one for ourselves. That’s when the real testing began,” said Combs.
Using SL material optimized for mechanical property robustness and processability, the Aerosport team produced a massive working prototype, a fully functional part which included every feature, in one build on the UnionTech RSPro 600 equipment. When assembled by the client, it was used for demonstrations. Aerosport put the RSPro 600 to its first big test with Aerosport’s largest build to date on the machine. Using the Somos EvoLVe 128 resin, a third-generation equipment assembly as well as a display model was constructed.
Part volume was within ±0.010″ (0.25 mm) in this instance but also that UnionTech’s accuracy claim of ±0.1% × length has proven itself time and time again in other builds.
Another factor in the decision to purchase the RSPro 600 was UnionTech’s open design philosophy that allows freedom of choice relative to material supply options. Aerosport has used SOMOS SL materials exclusively for over 12 years based on solid technical support and continued innovation. The EvoLVe resin, for instance, is a third-generation material optimized for durability and ease of processing.
The wide range of material capabilities provides significant versatility to the SL process relative to meeting customer needs. “Aside from using robust materials for mechanical performance applications, we also use a highly filled composite material to produce tooling for injection molding parts with various end-use materials,” Zac Holcomb said. “Materials range from ABS to silicon and other elastomeric materials. The range of applications, in size and performance capability, that can be served with a single SL machine brings great value to a service bureau like Aerosport that seeks the best solutions for their customers’ needs,” he explained.
While the RSPro 600 large-frame SL machine extended current prototyping capabilities, Aerosport’s decision to become the first service bureau in Ohio to add HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion technology represents an expansion of capabilities to support the production needs of its customers. “Aerosport has provided customers across all industries compelling, affordable prototyping services for more than 20 years,” said Combs. “HP’s groundbreaking Multi-Jet Fusion technology will allow us to produce over 50,000 end-use parts a week out of a very durable Nylon PA12 material.” Combs also noted, “With access to disruptive technologies like HP Multi-Jet Fusion we are embarking on the future of manufacturing and entirely new business opportunities.”