Month: May 2019

Span Tech Develops Innovative Conveyor Systems with MultiJet 3D Printing

From manufacturing to e-commerce, effective conveyor systems make the pace of modern life possible. Founded in 1989, Span Tech is recognized as a global leader in unique and customizable conveyor systems that are used in a wide range of industries, from food and beverage production to packaging distribution, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and more. Span Tech has built and sustained its reputation through constant innovation and a dedicated team of engineers who are committed to introducing meaningful improvements to conveyor capabilities.

Span Tech 3D prints its conveyor prototypes in full size using the ProJet® MJP 2500 Plus.

Span Tech designs and manufactures modular conveyors made with durable plastic chain systems that can meet any size and motion requirement, from inclining, to curving, to helical. In the world of smoothly running high-speed switches, spirals and wedges, prototyping is key for cost-effective development. Always on the lookout for innovative solutions to keep ideas and test systems flowing, Span Tech owner Bud Layne has made 3D printing part of his company’s development process for the past several years. To further increase its in-house capability, Span Tech decided to purchase a 3D Systems ProJet® MJP 2500 Plus and VisiJet® Armor (M2G-CL) and VisiJet® M2R-BK materials. Since installation, Span Tech has used these 3D printed parts to validate designs within a test system to introduce faster and more frequent design cycles, increase innovation, and boost confidence in final tooling investments.

Printing true-to-CAD models in robust materials allows Span Tech to print and test new conveyor assemblies quickly.

Confidence in final molding investment

Before purchasing its MJP system, Span Tech prototyped using a small desktop 3D printer, occasional one-off 3D printed parts, and traditional machining, but Layne wanted his engineers to have access to a faster and more robust in-house solution to enable more thorough and cost-effective development. The accuracy and material properties of the ProJet MJP 2500 Plus and VisiJet materials answered those requirements and fit seamlessly into Span Tech’s workflow.

Span Tech’s final conveyor systems are an injection-molded plastic assembly of eleven to twelve parts, depending on the component’s placement within the system. In order to prototype these parts, Span Tech R&D Engineer Scott Barbour prints them in full size on the ProJet MJP 2500 Plus and assembles them just like the final product, with functional features such as snap fits, sliding connectors, and integrated metal pieces including shafts and bearings. Taking advantage of the ProJet’s build platform and accuracy, Span Tech is able to print parts ranging from the largest, which are roughly six inches by four inches, to the smallest, which are less than half an inch in diameter and only a few millimeters thick. (The ProJet MJP 2500 Plus has a build platform of 11.6 x 8.3 x 5.6 in (294 x 211 x 144 mm) and offers resolution of 800 x 900 x 790 DPI, 32µ layers.)

“With the ProJet 2500 we can go through trial and error before we invest in tooling so we don’t have to spend time and money updating the mold,” says Barbour. “The molds for each of these eleven or twelve parts cost thousands of dollars apiece, so getting the part design right before making the molds is a big cost saver.”

Materials that match functional requirements

A big motivation behind Span Tech’s purchase of the ProJet MJP 2500 Plus was to expand in-house material options. According to Barbour, the previous 3D printing solution Span Tech used did not offer the right material properties and produced parts that were brittle and grew fragile over time. With the ProJet MJP printer, Span Tech now uses two different VisiJet materials, capitalizing on the strengths of each to achieve the optimal properties required for its prototypes. These prototypes use both VisiJet Armor (M2G-CL), a tough, ABS-like clear performance plastic, and VisiJet M2R-BK, a high modulus, rigid black plastic.

“VisiJetArmor is a lot stronger than the material we used to use, and it doesn’t break and isn’t brittle,” says Barbour. He also says the rigid black material is durable and good for weight bearing: “All the VisiJet parts print out true to the CAD models and we are able to run them through our test system to evaluate the feasibility of our designs,” Barbour says.

Accelerating development cycles with real world feedback

Most recently, Span Tech has been using its ProJet to develop a new guide rail system. According to Barbour, the printer has been invaluable in accelerating design iterations and enabling the company to deliver consistent improvements. The Span Tech bracket is designed to move and can both collapse and extend. To prototype these brackets, Barbour prints each part separately and assembles them to get a sense of how the final product will fit together. When anticipated clearances are not viable once prototyped, updating the design is a simple matter of tweaking the CAD model in SOLIDWORKS® and printing it again. “We’ve gone through several cycles where we’ll set everything up and decide something needs to change, so we update each CAD file, print them out and try again,” says Barbour. For the guide rail system, Barbour says he has printed twenty or thirty test parts to perfect the final performance.

3D Sprint® software facilitates a streamlined and optimized transition from file to 3D print.

Smooth workflow keeps development in motion

Span Tech reports an easy transition from CAD file to 3D printed part and a more streamlined post-processing operation than previously experienced. Every 3D Systems’ plastic printer comes with 3D Sprint® software for plastic additive manufacturing, which Barbour says is simple to learn and navigate: “3D Sprint is intuitive and easy to use. I was able to figure it out before anyone even had time to show me, and we were able to train our intern on it in no time at all.”

Once parts have been printed, post-processing with the ProJet Finisher takes about an hour of hands-off time to melt the support material, followed by about 20 minutes in the ultrasonic cleaner with oil. The ProJet Finisher is a post-processing accessory offered by 3D Systems that alleviates the need for manual scrubbing of parts. According to Barbour, using oil delivers VisiJet Armor parts that are almost crystal clear, and VisiJet M2R-BK parts that are richly black. “I just take them out of the ultrasonic cleaner and wipe them off with paper towels and am good to go,” says Barbour.

Looking for future opportunities

The success Span Tech has had in prototyping its conveyor system assemblies has gotten the company thinking about other opportunities for 3D printing for its product lineup. “Once you get used to working with this capability, you start designing things that would work better for you, but that are only possible with 3D printing,” says Barbour. Although Span Tech is not yet using 3D printing for production, it is interested in expanding the range of its 3D printed applications to extend the time and cost savings it has experienced in prototyping.

Video: Surface Finish Sampler Cube

Video Transcript:

Hello world, Ryan here with Miller 3D! I’m excited to show you some really cool stuff!

Our Surface Finish Sampler Cube

First up today, we’re going to be looking at our Surface Finish Sampler Cube: a small print of some 17-4 Stainless Steel that you’ll be seeing reprinted, today, on some H13 Tool Steel.

Why print a part that samples different surface finishes?

The reason why we made this thing is because we kept getting constant questions from our customers and future clients about what they can reasonably expect from a Markforged Metal X Print.

When they print up their parts, what type of surface finish options do they have available, and how hard or expensive might they be to achieve?

Let’s check this out.

Surface: As Printed

The first one I want to show you is “As Printed”.

The reason why I want to show you this one is because this is the default. The De-facto standard surface finish that you get after printing up the Markforged Metal X (and after you sinter it and wash the part): This is what you get.

On here, I want to show you a couple of the cool features:

We decided to use this side to decide some of the features found in here.

3D Printed Features that are impossible to cut with CNC

For example: these 3 holes and these 2… are impossible to cut out with a CNC machine. The reason why is because these are actually curved. They curve right to the other side, on an arc.

I’d love to see a 5 axis machine (with a really skillful application engineer) cut that shape out.

Surface: Wet Sanded in the Green State

Let’s check out some of the other sides: This is Wet Sanded in the green state.

Now, what’s a “green state”?

After you print up a part, it looks a little bit like this: [shows 3d printed part in green state]

This is a softer, unfinished version of the part. It’s printed, it’s got metal in there, but it also has a variety of waxes and plastics that help hold the part together until it is indeed sintered.

Sanding down the 3D print in its green state

In that soft state, we decided to take our Surface Finish Sampler Cube and sand it down during the green state. What we end up with is a very, very smooth, almost machined, surface where it is just like being machined by a CNC Mill- the only difference is that this does not have that nice polished finish that you often see on those machined parts. Again, you can see those cutouts; I would love to see these cut out by a CNC 5 Axis or however many axes you need.

Surface: Machined after 3D Printed

By comparison, while I’m talking about it, this is the machined side of the part. This is what type of expectation you can have when it comes to the finish and luster of the part, after you’ve machined it down. This is with that 17-4 Stainless Steel that we’ve printed, by the way: this is how easy it is to machine.

Rigid tapping into 3D printed 17-4 Stainless Steel

We’ve also taken the liberty of tapping into this; there are actually some threaded holes in there. It may be a bit hard to see, but trust me, we screwed in a couple screws in there and they work pretty well.

Surface: Polished

Next up is Polished. Polished is pretty cool because it shows you what the “as printed” state would look like if you just take some polish and polish it up to a nice high shine. This is it right here.

Surface: Unsupported Angle

On the bottom: This is what hits the floor.  This is the base piece that this part was printed on. We decided print this angle here to show you what an unsupported angle looks like. It’s pretty nice!


And that’s it, guys:  The Surface Finish Sampler Cube.

Invest Cast: Wax 3D Printing Is Next Gen for Investment Casting

Wax 3D printing solution for the digital foundry helps Invest Cast Inc. dramatically cut time and cost for cast parts and grow business.

Founded in 1981, Invest Cast, Inc. has steadily grown its casting, machining and fabrication business with an emphasis on innovation. Using the latest technologies, training and techniques, Invest Cast now has three U.S. locations where it produces superior quality investment castings and delivers unmatched industry and technical experience.

In the company’s ongoing mission to deliver exceptional projects with unmatched customer service, Invest Cast recently purchased two ProJet® MJP 2500 IC 3D printers, 3D Systems’ new digital foundry solution that uses 100% RealWax™ investment casting wax to deliver fast and cost-effective, tool-less wax pattern production. By eliminating tooling, this new 3D printing solution reduces the time and expense of transitioning from a design to a cast part, and 3D Systems’ wax material integrates seamlessly into standard investment casting workflows.

Invest Cast reports exceptional surface finish, dimensional stability and castability with the ProJet MJP 2500 IC, and is now able to serve more customers with greater efficiency. Invest Cast is now positioned to introduce low-volume tool-less production for high quality cast parts in a fraction of the typical time.

Unprecedented speed and flexibility in casting

The ability to make final cast parts without tooling a mold has given Invest Cast’s customers the freedom to test multiple iterations quickly and cost-effectively, ultimately enabling them to arrive at better final parts.

VisiJet® M2 ICast 100% wax material shares the melt and burnout characteristics of standard casting waxes.

According to Al Hinchey, prototype specialist at Invest Cast, the ProJet MJP 2500 IC has cut significant time from the investment casting process. “Many times, we can go from model to metal in 2-5 days, which is down from the average lead time of approximately 6-12 weeks with investment casting molds,” he say. The ability to quickly deliver high quality casted parts sets Invest Cast apart from traditional foundries and offers Invest Cast customers a premium experience marked by exceptional service.

Hinchey has been 3D printing patterns for the foundry for 13 years and is impressed with all aspects of 3D Systems’ new digital foundry solution. In addition to the unparalleled production speed and low pattern costs, Hinchey credits the high quality of these patterns for their popularity with customers. “The surface finish of the wax patterns coming out of 2500 IC have been nothing short of phenomenal,” he says. “Our customers now specifically request patterns from these particular machines.”

The part accuracy and dimensional stability of patterns printed with the ProJet MJP 2500 IC have enabled Invest Cast to produce more complex parts with much finer, castable details than ever possible previously. Built using 3D Systems MultiJet Printing (MJP) technology, the ProJet MJP 2500 IC delivers patterns with tight tolerances that are ideal for complex precision metal components and uses VisiJet® M2 ICast material, a 100% wax material that shares the melt and burn-out characteristics of standard casting waxes.

The high fidelity, sharp edges, and smooth surfaces achievable with the 2500 IC save Invest Cast significant time on post-processing as well: “Our customers are constantly asking us for ways to get a better tolerance,” says Tyler Albert, Engineering Manager at Invest Cast, “which typically includes a lot of machining operations after casting, and finishing operations to improve surface finish. Our 2500 IC’s make it possible to eliminate a lot of those processes.

Building business with high casting quality, low pattern cost

According to Albert, the accelerated pattern production speed of 3D Systems’ digital foundry solution has helped Invest Cast expand its business by enabling it to answer parts needs quickly and consult on more projects. “Adding 3D printing to our capability has allowed us to expand our customer base and reach people that we typically wouldn’t be talking to,” says Albert. “A lot of customers come to us and know what they want, but they don’t know how to get there. With our expertise and the ProJet MJP 2500 IC, we are an avenue to get them to where they need to be.”

Making final cast parts without tooling saves Invest Cast time and money.

The ability to produce complex wax casting patterns without tooling also enables a dramatic reduction in per part costs. With 3D printing, complex geometries can be delivered at a fraction of the typical price and spare Invest Cast and its customers the added expense of tooling storage and maintenance. “With the 2500 IC, we can do more than what’s possible with injection molding,” says Hinchey. “The ability to 3D print wax patterns with this quality, speed and cost is not only good news for prototyping, but it opens up new opportunities in low-volume production casting as well. It helps Invest Cast stand out and do more for our customers.”

3D printed wax patterns, standard casting protocol

Hinchey reports a quick and easy installation process, with a crate-to-first-build time of just five hours. The ProJet MJP 2500 IC ships with 3D Sprint®, an additive manufacturing software unique to 3D Systems for preparing, optimizing, and sending files to print in a user-friendly workflow. “You no longer have to be an expert in the more complex CAD drawing programs,” says Hinchey.

The ProJet MJP 2500 IC incorporates seamlessly into Invest Cast’s standard investment casting protocol. After Invest Cast receives a digital file from a customer, the file is sent to print and the printed patterns are assembled onto a tree. The patterns are then dipped in slurry and emptied of wax in the foundry’s dewaxing ovens. Invest Cast uses a permeable investment casting shell, which allows investment casting wax to run through it. “The benefit of the 2500 IC is that it is plug-and-play for our operation,” says Albert. “At 1600 degrees, we can melt all of the 3D printed wax out of the shell.

After the shells are dewaxed, they are loaded into preparation ovens for preheating just prior to pouring. Once the metal has been poured and the patterns have cooled, the ceramic shells are removed, disconnected from the tree assembly and ground free of the gate material before final heat treatment or shipping.

Next-generation casting solution

It is not only Invest Cast customers who prefer the 3D printed wax patterns to injection molded ones. Due to their high quality surface finish, dimensional accuracy, and easy integration in the investment casting workflow, the foundry staff prefers them as well. “3D printed wax patterns are a fantastic fit for us,” says Hinchey. “Almost on a daily basis I hear from the foundry workers and general management staff that if the part can be printed on the 2500 IC, they would prefer it that way.”

The ProJet MJP 2500 IC helps Invest Cast go from model to metal in 2-5 days.

Given the quality, cost and business advantages the ProJet MJP 2500 IC has already introduced, Invest Cast is convinced digital foundry solutions are the way of the future. “This technology is going to be the next step in the next generation of investment casting,” says Albert.