Product: Figure 4
Industry: Electronics and Semiconductors
UK-based digital production house Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS) Custom specializes in soft silicone custom hearing protection and in-ear monitors. Answering customer needs for audio enhancement, hearing protection, and communication, ACS Custom has built its business around a 100% digital workflow that provides customers with quick access to one-of-a-kind articles.
ACS Custom’s digital workflow is comprised of digitization, design, and additive manufacturing. Using 3D Systems Figure 4® Standalone 3D printers and production-grade Figure 4 materials, including Figure 4® PRO-BLK 10 and Figure 4® EGGSHELL-AMB 10, ACS Custom is able to produce accurate, customized products at unmatched rates of speed. Thus, when a local Formula One team approached the company for help bringing better fit and function to its headsets, ACS Custom was able to confidently promise and deliver a custom, high quality, fully 3D printed solution within just a few days – including customer design reviews.
An ideal workflow for custom products
ACS Custom specializes in products that solve problems for its clients, and founder and managing director Andy Shiach says the digital workflow is ideally suited to its business: “When we decide we want to make a product, we can design it and print it within the space of a couple days. Then, if we realize we need to revise our design, we can do that immediately.”
This manufacturing approach and responsiveness is only possible through additive manufacturing. “If we had to tool and injection mold the products we make, the time and costs involved would be prohibitive,” Shiach adds. Instead, a digital workflow with Figure 4 Standalone makes it possible for the company to go from a design concept to a final product in as little as three to four days.
“Our digital workflow helps us quickly and accurately answer the wants and needs of our clients,” says Shiach. For instance, ACS Custom has developed several creative products for a UK Formula One team to achieve a top-level communications system. Developed and produced within a week, each product responds to the demands and environments of the target staff, from helmeted pit crews to hospitality agents touring VIP guests around the facilities. However the utility of ACS Custom’s products extends well beyond the racetrack: “Wherever there’s a noise environment, our products can offer a solution,” says Shiach. “And a lot of our products don’t exist yet. It’s really exciting to have this technology at our fingertips to be able to fill needs for our customers.”
Prototyping and production at top speeds
ACS Custom uses its digital workflow for both prototyping and production parts. The company is continually exploring new applications for its Figure 4 Standalone printers, and has had success with a variety of housings for PC boards and earphones as well as earphone jacks and adapters. The printed features ACS Custom achieves likewise demonstrate the breadth of this manufacturing technology’s capabilities, with wall thicknesses from 0.3 millimeters to 1-millimeter, smooth surfaces, knurled surfaces, and even functional, fine threading. “We’re using the printers pretty much full time and the components are fantastic,” Shiach says. “The quality, repeatability, materials – all fantastic.”
In addition to direct production applications, ACS Custom uses its 3D printers for eggshell casting. This technique takes advantage of the ability to print ultra-thin walls with Figure 4 to create molds for injecting silicone with Figure 4 EGGSHELL-AMB 10 material. Once injected, the 3D printed mold can be broken and peeled away like an eggshell to reveal a silicone part that ACS Custom post-processes, marks, and finishes.
Beyond the efficiency of the digital workflow, Dan Bennett, technical director at ACS Custom, says the technology allows the company to tackle larger and more complicated projects than it could before: “We can now print geometries inside the silicone molds, whereas before we would have to drill it all out by hand. What’s more, the dimensional accuracy of the Figure 4 printer ensures we don’t need to do as many iterations or build tolerances into the parts.”
Speed and accuracy enable innovation
3D Systems Figure 4 Standalone uses a non-contact membrane that builds parts by projecting full design layers. In addition to delivering exceptional surface quality, this process dramatically reduces total print time for a faster time-to-part. “Speed is one of the best things about these printers,” says Bennett. “It allows me to do five or six revisions in a day if I need to, rather than waiting hours for a single print job as I’ve experienced on other systems.”
The combination of Figure 4 accuracy with the properties of 3D Systems materials makes it possible for ACS Custom to transition to final part production using the same system already in place for prototyping. For final production parts in black, ACS Custom uses Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10, a high precision, production-grade material with long-term environmental stability and thermoplastic-like behavior. 3D Systems’ plastic 3D printers also include 3D Sprint® software as part of a complete additive manufacturing solution. 3D Sprint is an all-in-one additive manufacturing software that enables file optimization, preparation, and printing with a suite of advanced features for design, file correction, analysis, and more.
“3D Sprint is very intuitive in terms of layout, and the support features are really good,” says Bennett. “When the outside surface quality is important, we can reduce the touchpoint size and position of supports really accurately.”
Digital process protects life of purchase, drives innovation
ACS Custom’s use of a digital workflow gives the company and its customers the anytime assurance that lost or damaged products can be replaced precisely to original specifications. This is an advantage over traditional production alternatives for custom products such as manual methodologies. “ACS Custom offers you a custom-made product that delivers superior comfort, fit, and sound-tightness with a perfectly reproducible file,” says Shiach. “If we did this by hand and you ever needed a replacement, it would never be identical to the one you lost. With 3D printing, we can absolutely recreate the same article.”
Beyond benefiting ACS Custom customers, Bennett says the digital workflow drives business success: “Thanks to the 3D technology we’re using, we’re at the forefront of our industry. It allows us to keep ahead of the competition by innovating and creating new products.”