“As far as what we’re testing in, it is definitely becoming a faster way to build parts compared to [selective laser sintering],” Joe Cretella, an applications engineer at Proto Labs (Maple Plain, Minn.), told MDO at this year’s MD&M East in New York.
“SLS uses an overhead laser to selectively sinter parts together. HP is using a print head to deposit a binding agent onto the powder to bond the powder, and it’s getting a UV light to cure that. So it could basically build a complete platform in one pass,” Cretella said.
Proto Labs is getting smaller features and better surface finish, according to Cretella. “It’s got more isotropic material properties. With SLS, one of the drawbacks was, you can see resolution, or you’ll see layers repeat weaker material properties. With multi-jet fusion, you have better gel properties. You can see as well as XY – kind of uniform material properties – and that’s a big plus for that technology.”
For now, Proto Labs is only testing the printers. Customers will start to gain access to the printers once Proto Labs moves to beta testing, which Cretella says will happen soon.
Proto Labs’s testing involves setting up the reliability that the company offers with all its manufacturing processes, building parameters in-house to deliver parts with tight tolerances and consistent structural properties.
“One of the things that we like to do is just dial in the process.,” Cretella said. “So, right now we’re going to the dial button: dialing in the parameters, dialing in how we’re finishing the parts and how we’re building the parts, really getting a consistent part volume across the board.”
“That’s what we really pride ourselves in. It’s not only getting the parts to you quickly but how we build the parts. We get you a quality part with tighter tolerances than anybody else,” Cretella said.
Cretella suspects the new HP printers will allow Proto Labs to increase volumes. “It’s definitely much faster than SLS is at this point. ”
[Want to stay more on top of MDO content? Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter.]