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3D printing unlocks potential at Ison Products

14 June 2011

For nearly forty years, a High Wycombe based engineering firm had adopted a fairly traditional approach to prototyping – until it discovered the benefits of rapid prototyping in the form of 3D printing. According to its managing director, the technology has “opened up a whole new world of opportunities” for the company

Founded in 1973, High Wycombe-based Ison Products is an established manufacturer of engineering components, supplying a number of blue chip clients across many manufacturing and service industry sectors. Its core competencies typically lie in security product development, with recent examples including anything from locking mechanisms for cash machines, coin-operated locks and wrist straps for changing room lockers to locking devices for roadside cabinets and perimeter fencing. Managing director, Paul Isaacs says his company will "have a go" at almost anything, regardless of complexity.

The company has an injection moulding facility at the High Wycombe site, supported by a toolroom and engineering shop that provides milling, turning, pressing, welding and assembly. Hitherto, the company has modelled its prototypes using fairly conventional methods - traditional toolmaking that is both expensive and time consuming. The goal of achieving both reduced lead-times and reduced costs led Mr Isaacs to think seriously about installing a rapid prototyping system, 3D printing being his preferred technology.

Initial trials of a desktop 3D printer proved disappointing, with excessive hand finishing required after part build. However, a timely email from the marketing team at OPS - Objet Geometries’ UK based distributor - arrived in Mr Isaacs’ inbox and he promptly responded. “I contacted OPS and they recommended Objet's Eden250,” he says. “In all honesty I was blown away by what it could do and there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right machine for Ison.”

The office-friendly Eden250 uses Objet’s PolyJet technology, which enables models to be built in horizontal layers as thin as 16μm, with a wall thickness of just 0.6mm, if required, and to typical tolerances of just 0.1mm. The machine uses a clean process with no special electrical, ventilation, or materials storage requirements.

 “We use SolidWorks 3D CAD software and save files in STL format ready for transfer to the Eden250,” explains Mr Isaacs. “Using Objet’s 3D Studio software we simply select our preferred part orientation and let the machine do the rest. It will automatically decide the optimum position on the build platform.”

Within a generous 250 by 250 by 200mm envelope the machine will print one large model in a single build, thus avoiding the need to join multiple model parts. There’s a choice of ‘high quality’ and ‘high speed’ printing modes, which allows the user to select the optimum approach to model build according to requirements. enables the user to optimise the printing process according to requirements. The system also supports four different model materials – FullCure 720 transparent, VeroBlue, VeroWhite and VeroBlack – so users can produce parts with selective properties in terms of flexibility, elongation at break, and colour. Mr Isaacs again:

“The machine has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for Ison. As a company it helps us think ‘outside the box’ and provide our clients with innovative, non-conventional solutions that previously would have been beyond our capability. For instance, we recently had a customer who wanted to prototype a rubber seal for a drinking vessel. Originally the client suggested using vacuum casting but it proved difficult to replicate the exact material.”

Mr Isaacs had the idea of deploying the Eden250 to 3D print a set of plastic injection mould tools – die and cavity. Once built, Ison was able to inject the tool with the rubber material intended for the seal production. And as rubber has a low melting temperature, mould tool damage was avoided. “The customer was thrilled that we could provide a prototype so quickly, in the exact production material and for such a low price,” Mr Isaacs recalled.

Ison has since used this idea to produce security industry production parts that would normally have been manufactured by the investment casting (lost wax) process. Instead of making the tooling to produce the pattern waxes in metal, the company simply prints the injection mould dies, saving money and time.


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