Companies once had no choice but to utilize expensive and inflexible methods such as injection molding and casting to build unique parts for new products, but the advent of 3D printing technology has forever changed how prototyping process the works.
3D printing cuts down drastically on the price and time required for such small and customized orders, enabling those companies — young and old — to innovate, experiment and produce faster than ever before.
Stratasys has been at the forefront of this movement since 1989 with its advanced 3D printing systems equipment. A few months ago, we recounted the tale of Emma Lavelle and her “magic arms,” a robotic exoskeleton built with a Stratasys machine that allowed her to overcome a congenital disorder and regain the use of her arms.
At RedEye on Demand, a business unit of Stratasys, all kinds of custom-made parts and pieces are being whipped up every day through the use of high-end 3D printers housed within the Eden Prarie factory floor.
Separate from the companies core model of manufacturing and selling the devices themselves, the original purpose of this service unit was to create sample parts as free benchmarks for potential Stratasys customers. Eventually they came to notice that some companies were taking advantage of this and ordering too many free parts, so they halted that, only to learn that their customers came back to them willing to pay.
This formed the basis for the RedEye division, which came into existence late 2005 for rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing solutions.
RedEye still operates as a prospecting function for Stratasys – they call it “profitable prospecting” now – but its capabilities have grown far beyond that. An online engine that provided instant quotes for rapid prototyping set RedEye apart in the industry and proved to be a breakthrough for creating their own business model.
“We can build basically any complex shape you can fathom,” says program manager Tim Thellin. RedEye’s clients span many industries, including aerospace, medical, electric and consumer – essentially any company that uses tangible parts in a manufacturing environment. “The typical prototype projects we see take 2-3 days,” he adds, depending on the size, complexity and quantity of parts ordered.
In Emma’s “magic arms” story, her doctors learned that the thermal plastic used in Stratasys’ 3D printing process was strong and durable enough for everyday use, and this reality has been a boon for RedEye, which has expanded beyond the prototyping field and into building parts for end-use applications. While they don’t have the resources to produce such parts on a mass level, companies are increasingly enlisting them for pilot builds and low-volume manufacturing.
“We’re really the pioneer in taking this technology from rapid prototyping into manufacturing applications, making end-use parts that traditionally were made through injection molding,” says marketing manager Melissa Hanson. “We can do complexity and durability at the same time.”
In an instance where capital investment is not an option and a startup needs to validate early designs of products is where RedEye can come in. Using their online quoting application, entrepreneurs can obtain specific pricing for their build based on x-y-z dimensions, surface area, volume, orientation, finishing options, and support material.
“Understanding which additive processes and technologies best apply to your product’s application and where you’re at in the product development cycle is critical for the emerging company,” Hanson explains, “For low volume, end-use applications that fit the additive manufacturing technology, take advantage of engineering expertise such as that offered by RedEye, to ensure you design your parts for long term manufacturability.”