Case Study-Quentor 3D Systems Solid Imaging


Winning Combination Seals Racing Contract

Grand Prix racing teams periodically travel the world in Jumbo jets, taking with them more than 20 tons of equipment on every trip, of which 4 to 6 tons is normally accounted for by the custom-built flight cases. With a need to carry ever more equipment, the top Formula 1 teams are always seeking means to both maximize their loads and to minimize the huge cost penalties imposed for carrying excess weight.

Their flight case supplier, Quentor, had been developing a major new product to provide combined good looks, strength and weight-savings of around 30%. However, they were experiencing problems in bringing the new system to market in time to meet the flyaway deadline for the first race of the new season.

A key element of their case product - which achieves much of its weight reduction by employing high-grade plastics - was to source a suitable manufacturer for molded parts. In particular, the new reinforcing corner pieces for their cases had been designed but needed proving and had to be manufactured and ready to use within only a few weeks. To meet this deadline, they ideally needed a manufacturer who could offer SL modeling, tool manufacture and injection molding under one roof.

The solution was provided by Moulds for Plastics, a precision toolmaking company specializing in plastics, which combined its toolmaking expertise with stereolithography (SL) and 3D Keltool rapid tooling processes from 3D Systems Ltd., to supply the finished parts in time for Quentor to manufacture its cases.

Moulds for Plastics, set up nearly 30 years ago in Welwyn Garden City, U.K., is run by Robert Wilson, the son of its original founder. It supplies precision injection mold tools and injection moldings to a range of industries, including electronics, pharmaceuticals and information technology.

Last year Robert Wilson decided to invest in two new rapid product development facilities from 3D Systems, enabling the company to provide their customers with an all-in-one service or 'single source solution'. "A lot of our customers had begun to bring SL models to us from service bureaus", he said, "and many of them turned out to be expensive to tool up". His new SLA 250 stereolithography machine from 3D Systems has allowed the firm's CAD manager and ex-toolmaker, Roger Sparrow, to suggest and quickly carry out minor design changes that save customers money and make tooling easier as a result.

Moulds for Plastics is also a 3D Keltool partner, which means the company can offer custom metal mold making in half the time needed for traditional steel molds. 3D Keltool molds allow fine detail at no extra cost and provide a surface that - unlike traditional tooling - requires no finishing of the final product.

Components such as the corner moldings take great skill to make: the constantly varying angles make it difficult to establish the correct split line for the mold - and a mistake here would mean the finished parts not separating from the mold. The Moulds for Plastics designer refined CAD data (e-mailed by Quentor) to split the mold into two halves: the core and the cavity molds. These were then sent downline to produce the SL models. Once he was satisfied with the final design (which needed only one iteration, carried out in a matter of hours), a textured paint was applied to the inside of the cavity mold to give it a 'rough spark' type finish.

The SL mold inserts were immediately couriered to the USA, where the 3D Keltool rapid toolmaking facility is based. There they were set in a box and filled with liquid silicon to form the mold negatives. The final metal 3D Keltool molds were cast from this negative and pre-finished prior to being air-freighted back to Welwyn Garden City.

Once the appropriate injection and ejection points were machined into the molds, a short run of about 50 plastic parts was quickly produced in the in-house moldshop. These were taken, "hot off the press" to a roadside café halfway between Welwyn Garden City and their customer's Norwich base, where the Quentor engineers were waiting… They checked the corner pieces for fit on a mock-up flight case section they had brought with them, then rushed the rest of the parts back to their factory where some were incorporated into a full size prototype for evaluation. They functioned perfectly, and production corner pieces delivered the following day enabled the flight case manufacturer to commence the final phase of construction or its consignment of new-design race cases.

The flight case market is highly competitive, so lead times were particularly important for Quentor. Moulds for Plastics' all-in-one service got its customer their product in nearly half the time compared with traditional methods at a cost saving of around 53%. The whole process took about 3 weeks, compared to a conventional 6 weeks for steel and 5 weeks for aluminum. Traditional steel tooling would have cost around £8,500: the cost achieved by using SL and 3D Keltool rapid tooling was nearer £4,000.

The flight case manufacturer was especially pleased with the results of this contract and have since placed further business with Moulds for Plastics.

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