The ProJet MJP 3D Printer Saves Citizen Watch Time and Money

Product: MJP Printing
Industry: Consumer Products and Retail

3D Systems’ ProJet® 3500 HD 3D Printer Saves Citizen Watch Time and Money
“With the high-precision 3D printed mock-ups of our wristwatch designs, we improved quality and saved three times the installation costs of our ProJet MJP within six months.” — Mr. Naito, Product Development, Citizen Watch

Citizen Watch introduced its first wristwatch in 1931. Since then, Citizen has grown into the global brand it is today, and earned a strong reputation through innovative products like the ‘Eco Drive’, which converts light into electrical energy, and radio-controlled clocks that use standard radio waves from an atomic clock to update to the correct time within 1 second every 100,000 years.

To maintain their confidential development strategy, Citizen relies on an in-house prototyping division. Before getting their 3D printer, Citizen used NC lathes in their machining center to create mock-ups of final watch designs and assembly jigs. Because this type of machining frequently adds costs and timeline delays, however, Citizen decided to explore their options in 3D printing to reduce the time and money their development center spent on prototypes.

Going from a designer’s sketch to a prototype involves repeated design reviews and adjustments, and machining a new prototype following each suggested change takes huge amounts of time and money. Since timeline restraints limited the number of verification models that could be made, Citizen could not explore all their ideas with machining. This limitation pushed the company to investigate 3D printing as a way to give its designers more time to thoroughly review designs during early stages so they could produce better final designs.

Of the ten 3D printers Citizen evaluated, 3D Systems’ ProJet MJP (MulitJet Printer) HD printer was the only one that satisfied all of their needs. The 3D printer produces durable, high-quality plastic parts using MultiJet Printing technology, and 3D Systems’ robust, UV-curable VisiJet® materials in an assortment of colors. With a net build volume of 11.75 x 7.3 x 8 inches, the printer provides a high speed print mode and delivers high definition prints with exceptional detail precision and surface quality.

Citizen ended up using its ProJet MJP for more than prototyping, however. “Since the VisiJet material can be dyed or painted, we can quickly and easily evaluate mock-ups that have the look of a finished product,” said Mr. Naito of Citizen’s Technical Development Division. “We saved three times the installation cost of our ProJet within six months, and it has helped us spot problems with physical models that we couldn’t see with CAD alone. We can now fine-tune and improve products before following through with the final mock-up, which has led to improved quality and valuable reductions in time and cost.”

Citizen is also using their MJP printer to magnify and print tiny structural parts at three times their actual size to examine their movement and invent new assembly jigs. Before getting its 3D printer, Citizen produced one variety of assembly jig. Since getting its ProJet, however, Citizen has created new jig candidates, enabling Citizen to make the best-suited shape for the required fit in the shortest amount of time. The MJP printer has transformed a 20- to 30-day process into overnight production and has been seamlessly incorporated into Citizen’s workflow as a powerful development tool.

“If nothing else, the ProJet MJP has an extraordinarily high level of precision, which is extremely important when piecing together small watch assemblies,” said Mr. Naito. “But the ProJet has other significant advantages as well. There is minimal distortion, warping, or variation in batches, and the surface quality is superb, with fine details and sharp edges. The material is of a higher quality, stronger and less brittle than competitors’ and has easy post-processing, with the ability to melt wax away. It’s also exceptionally easy to use. Even a beginner can master it in two to three days.”

3D printed jig helps Citizen watch rapidly assemble its products

Citizen’s 3D printer went into immediate operation and is now used by many of Citizen’s designers. It has made the company’s operations less confusing, and has  inspired the watchmakers to continue looking for ways to use it beyond its research and development departments. “We want to move beyond traditional divisions and include departments that are directly involved with production and have pressing needs of their own,” Naito said.

Designing a Custom Boot for an Injured Penguin

Product: MJP Print
Industry: Medical and Forensic

Despite their tuxedoed appearance, penguins aren’t always well mannered. In the aftermath of one particular penguin scuffle among endangered African Penguins at Mystic Aquarium, Yellow/Purple (AKA “Purps”) was found to have a nonfunctional flexor tendon in her ankle. Much like an injury to a person’s Achilles heel, damage to a penguin’s flexor tendon leads to pain and difficulty in motion.

purps-aq-student-team-actgroup

Once Purps’ injury was identified, the veterinary staff at Mystic Aquarium took action with a handmade boot to immobilize, protect and support the damaged foot. Yet the animal care team knew more modern solutions were available that would not only be more durable and less cumbersome for the small bird, but also require less time than handcrafting the boot. Mystic Aquarium’s Chief Clinical Veterinarian, Dr. Jen Flower, proposed 3D printing.

The aquarium took this idea to Mystic Middle School, which had recently acquired a 3D printer through ACT Group, a local 3D Systems partner, and the rest is history. Working as a team, Mystic Aquarium, ACT Group and the middle school students came together to design and 3D print a new boot for Purps. With anatomical guidance from Mystic Aquarium’s veterinary staff and technical training from the professionals at ACT Group, the students led the design and manufacturing process using 3D Systems’ end-to-end solutions.

In a workshop facilitated by ACT Group, the students started with 3D Systems’ Geomagic Capture® 3D Scanner to scan an existing cast of Purps’ foot and then imported the data into Geomagic® Sculpt™ software where they customized the file with details like treads, hinges and closures.

3d-printed-boot-in-hand-actgroup

“The students amazed us in how quickly they picked up the software,” said Nick Gondek, Director of Additive Manufacturing and Applications Engineer, ACT Group. “It was rewarding to provide them with a technology that could keep up with their ingenuity, and to watch their creative thinking, imagination and intuitiveness lead this process.”

Once satisfied with the design, it was 3D printed on 3D Systems’ multi-material ProJet MJP 5600 3D printer. This printer enables both flexible and rigid materials to be printed and blended simultaneously at the voxel level for custom strength and elasticity. The resulting boot achieved the intended effect in durability, weight and fit, enabling Purps to walk and swim like the rest of her peers.

ZetrOZ Reduces Product Time-To-Market With MJP Multi-Material 3D Printing

Product: MJP Print
Industria: Medical and Forensic

Not long ago one of the realities of the medical device industry was that a company had to have a large footprint to reach the market with an innovative product.

But an emerging generation of small companies is using a laser-focus on their product niche and new technologies such as 3D printing to break through the barriers of the past.

ZetrOZ is a prime example. The company, privately funded with about 20 employees, late last year introduced sam®, the world’s smallest ultrasound therapy system that provides an alternative to pharmaceutical-based pain treatments. 

sam stands for Sustained Acoustic Medicine, a suitable name for a device delivering long-duration, continuous ultrasound therapy that’s completely drug-free and cleared by the FDA. According to ZetrOZ, the deep-penetrating ultrasonic therapy—available only before in large, expensive machines located in the offices of healthcare providers—reduces inflammatory pain, relieves muscle spasms, improves joint and muscle flexibility, and increases local circulation.

Detailed medical device prototyped using Multi jet 3D printing technology

3D prototypes like the real thing

After nearly a year on the market, ZetrOZ needed to design a new version of sam, with the emphasis on making the casing for the device more aesthetically pleasing, both to the eye and the touch. ZetrOZ also wanted to ensure that sam can withstand the rigors of everyday use in a home environment, which could include everything that typically happens to a cell phone: people sitting on it and dropping it, cats playing with it, dirt, dust, humidity, moisture—you name it.

The updated design work was done with help from the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT) and a funding grant through Connecticut’s Manufacturing Technical Assistance Program, a state-legislature supported program.

CCAT uses the ProJet® 5500X (now sold as the ProJet 5600) printer to quickly produce multi-material prototypes that are not just approximations of actual products, but that look and feel exactly like injection-molded parts.

“The ProJet 5600 is a unique 3D printer,” says Eric Wold, CCAT machining applications specialist. “It has the ability to blend materials within a single part build. It is especially good for parts with over-molded features, such as a rubber grip on the outside of a handle or case.”

For ZetrOZ, the over-molding capability is critical for creating a rigid case that provides a comfortable, tactile feel.

“Working with CCAT and its 3D Systems’ printer gives us access to a wide range of printed materials,” says ZetrOZ’s Eric Kolb. “We can experiment with different material properties for strength, flexibility, surface finish, comfort and resolution.”

CCAT has developed sam prototypes using three different materials from 3D Systems: VisiJet CR-WT, a white, ABS-like material; VisiJet CR-CL, which is clear and has the translucence and strength of a polycarbonate; and VisiJet CF-BK for the over-molded areas that require a rubber-soft gripping surface.

Iterations in half the time

Over the past several months working on the new version of sam, the two Erics have leveraged 3D printing technology to forge an easy-going, clearly defined relationship.

“Basically I send a SOLIDWORKS CAD file to Eric and he does the rest,” says Kolb.

Wold converts the CAD file into STL format and loads it into 3D Systems’ 3D Sprint software to lay out the parts on the ProJet 5600 build plate. When the parts come out of the printer they are placed in an oven to remove wax used during the build process, cleaned with mineral oil in an ultrasonic machine, and gently washed with hot water and a mild soap.

ZetrOZ is refining a favored design and materials after about six vastly different design concepts were considered. It takes about a week, including shipping, for CCAT to return a 3D-printed prototype for each iteration, according to Kolb.

“If we were using a traditional injection-molding process, each prototype could take eight to 12 weeks to build and we’d probably only have time and money for one design iteration,” says Kolb. “Some new molding processes can reduce that time to a couple of weeks, but that’s still twice the time it takes us working with CCAT and its 3D Systems equipment, software and materials.”

“The quality and the detail of the 3D printer are amazing,” says Wold. “We have had people visit our facility who have been 3D printing for years and they cannot believe the fine details the printer is capable of. Parts that come out of the printer look like finished production parts, not 3D-printed prototypes.”

Skin in the game

The new, improved version of sam is not just a professional concern for ZetrOZ’s Kolb. As a runner and triathlete who has suffered from chronic injuries, Kolb is using sam to get back in shape for future competition. He’s benefiting from the controlled-release, long-duration treatment provided by sam, using the device up to four hours a day, five days a week.

“In the past I’ve never been able to use products I’ve worked on because they were for surgical procedures,” says Kolb. “It’s nice to be designing something I can touch and operate as an end user.”

Kolb expects that the more rugged and cosmetically pleasing sam will be released in the first part of 2016, providing another example of how, with the help of 3D printing, big ideas from small companies can come to market faster and less expensively than ever before.

Protocast Cuts Leadtime on High Value Casting Patterns

Product: MJP 3D Printer
Industriy: Casting

Established in 1966, Protocast-JLC is a one-stop precision investment casting manufacturer for a variety of quality- and innovation-oriented industries, including aerospace, energy, communications, medical, and military, among others. The full-service investment casting foundry has built a strong reputation among its customers for its ability to tailor production to meet customer demands, and the addition of a ProJet® MJP 2500 IC investment casting printer by 3D Systems has contributed to that reputation. In addition to helping the foundry deliver intricate, high-quality investment casting patterns faster, the flexibility of digital production has enabled Protocast to win more customers by providing a cost-effective way to fulfill orders of any volume.

Intricate, high-quality 3D printed investment casting patterns, delivered fast

Protocast specializes in the pouring of aluminum, steel, and copper-based investment casting alloys and has built a reputation among its customers for successful casting outcomes on unique parts that would be impossible to tool and injection mold. These parts include thin walls and intricate details. For example, amplifier horns on satellites, which have “hyper-thin walls” that could not be done any other way, according to Chris List, Business Development Manager at Protocast.

Protocast has built this reputation through the incorporation of additive technologies for 3D printing casting patterns. Foundry owner John List began incorporating additive technologies through third-party providers as a way to help his customers achieve more intricate parts and bypass the design limitations typical of conventional casting pattern production. However, outsourcing pattern production made it challenging for Protocast to fully set and control delivery schedules, which typically hovered around twelve to thirteen weeks when relying on a vendor to supply the pattern.

To improve self-sufficiency, predictability, and costs, Protocast purchased 3D Systems’ ProJet MJP 2500 IC, to produce castable 3D printed parts in-house. Since integrating its own 3D printer, lead time from order to delivery has shrunk from multiple months to same-week delivery.

A streamlined workflow from CAD to casting

Interior of metal cast part created by Protocast using 3D Systems ProJet MJP 2500 IC

According to Chris, who is Protocast’s primary operator of the ProJet MJP 2500 IC, 3D Systems’ digital foundry solution has helped the foundry remove steps from its previous process, particularly in aluminum castings and for detailed parts. Using conventional methods, some of the parts Protocast produces would require two to four tools to produce. “Now, we can get something printed and in someone’s hand in a week if we have to,” says Chris.

The ProJet MJP 2500 IC is a 3D printing solution for the digital foundry that uses 100% RealWax™ investment casting wax to deliver fast and cost-effective, tool-less wax patterns. By eliminating tooling, the ProJet MJP 2500 IC reduces the time and expense of transitioning from a design to a cast part, and 3D Systems’ VisiJet® M2 ICast material, a paraffin-based wax, integrates seamlessly into standard investment casting workflows. It is now possible to produce high quality cast parts in a fraction of the typical time.

The ProJet MJP 2500 IC has been a great tool for Protocast, particularly in steel castings, and performs identically to the foundry’s existing processes. Chris says the foundry is getting reliable casting results with its in-house 3D printed patterns simply by calculating shrink rates and applying them to the geometry in 3D Sprint®.

“Our customers have responded very well to these parts, and I think the time and cost savings enabled by this process contribute to that response,” Chris says. “Taking a drawing and turning it into metal has traditionally been a drawn-out process. The immediate satisfaction of holding a physical part is awesome.”

Exterior of metal cast part by Protocast produced using 3D Systems ProJet MJP 2500 IC

Transitioning to the digital foundry

Protocast reports an easy transition to the digital foundry and is now able to defy conventional limitations on casting pattern production in terms of both complexity and speed. Operationally, the main difference between life before the ProJet MJP 2500 IC and life with it, is that the foundry no longer needs to outsource casting patterns to other facilities. “We were used to using 3D models for our projects, and the software is easy to use,” says Chris, who uses 3D Systems’ 3D Sprint® software that comes with the ProJet MJP 2500 IC primarily for splitting patterns and engineering. “It’s just really easy. You can’t put it any other way,” he says.

As for the 3D printer itself, Chris says it has proven to be a valuable tool for more than final pattern production: “The machine hasn’t stopped running since we got it,” says Chris. In addition to production patterns, Protocast uses its ProJet MJP 2500 IC to produce scaled-down versions of customer parts to aid in both quoting and sales. “This capability has been very beneficial because it shows our customers we are able to get started right away, and it also gives us common ground to have engineering discussions as needed.”

Faster time to parts, high quality casting patterns, and enhanced customer communication are all great advantages. The biggest advantage of all, however, has been growth: “I think the ProJet MJP 2500 IC has opened up a new customer base for us,” says Chris. “Before, we weren’t able to accommodate as many jobs that needed flexible production quantities. Now, we don’t have to wait for any tooling and we don’t have to add twenty thousand dollars in tooling to the quote we give our customers.”

Reliable access to casting

Given the success of integrating the ProJet MJP 2500 IC into its workflow, Protocast is now considering the purchase of additional machines to continue growing its capacity and providing its customers with enhanced service.

“Managing how we’re going to produce parts is a huge deal for us and our customers,” says Chris. “The ProJet MJP 2500 IC has given us a reliable solution in that regard, and that is in addition to its ability to help us with near-instant parts-in-hand and fast quoting. It really is an amazing tool to have.”

“Good toolmakers are hard to find,” says List, “but we’ve found one with this machine.”