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Speeding time-to-market with 3D printing

03 June 2010

For NordicNeuroLab, rapid prototyping must achieve a smooth progression through the tortuous design iteration process. Using its chosen method - 3D printing - the company has not only achieved this aim, but has also discovered that certain printed parts are suitable for the final assembly

Scandinavian company NordicNeuroLab (NNL) specialises in functional MRI imaging, and its products are developed in collaboration with a customer base comprising medical research and clinical groups. Strong partnerships with MRI system manufacturers, leading research institutes and, of course, its customers are key to success in a competitive market that demands tight cost control without compromise to product quality.

Pre-production testing of new products is a given, and NNL’s preferred method of evaluating product design iterations is to prototype them using 3D printing. 3D printing technology allows NNL to meet customers’ demands for made-to-order imaging units and peripherals. Concepts can be visualised and form-and-fit issues tested at the earliest stages in the design process.

The company is currently using Objet Geometries’ 3D printing systems not only to test ergonomics and evaluate the overall design, but also to use certain printed parts in the final product, thanks to the accuracy of the printing process and the high quality surfaces it achieves. These high-resolution three-dimensional printing systems use Objet’s PolyJet polymer jetting technology, which achieves ultra-thin 16-micron layers. PolyJet is provided on both the Eden and Alaris 30 desktop printers, while PolyJet Matrix – jetting multiple model materials simultaneously to create composite ‘Digital Materials’ on the fly – is available on its Connex500 machine. All these systems use Objet’s FullCure materials to create accurate and highly detailed models.

Svein Reidar Rasmussen, NNL’s hardware developer, says the Objet Eden system, for example, is helping his company to meet customer demands easily and quickly. The Objet model provides an insight into how the final product is going to feel; it also helps NNL to solve any issues surrounding the integration of components from external suppliers early on in the product development cycle.

“Objet gives us the ability to quickly verify our designs. In turn, this has enabled us to speed up our workflow and create a highly effective trial and error – or test and trial – development and design process. We are seeing a much quicker time-to-market for our product line,” says Mr Rasmussen.

NNL makes full use of the rubber-like properties of Objet’s Tango material to evaluate the ergonomics of buttons and controls. It also uses FullCure 720 transparent model material to create translucent models of product shells. With electronics inserted inside the shells, the company is better able to understand and identify otherwise unpredictable design flaws.

Beyond the pure modelling capabilities of the technology, Objet’s 3D printing has helped NNL eliminate errors in the pre-production phase of injection moulding. The time to generate moulds and the costs that these incur had always been a significant element of the total product development cost. The ability to check the mould before production prevents process errors and all the ensuing hassle, dramatically reducing overall costs.

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