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Mark Paton

Digital Technologies Help Manufacturer Hear Better Results

A big part of creating a competitive advantage? Being able to repeatedly deliver cutting edge products in a timely manner. Understandably this is not an easy task in an environment where digital technology runs rampant. After all, the manufacturing industry is undergoing a significant transformation; fueled by seamless access to data as well as powerful manufacturing tools such as additive manufacturing solutions.

ACS Custom, a UK-based digital production house for custom hearing protection, in-ear monitors, and other communication devices is a prime example.  ACS has revolutionized its workflow with 3D Systems’ Figure 4 direct digital solution. ACS Custom’s bespoke solution – comprised of Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10, Figure 4 standalone, 3D sprint software and application engineering services – is accelerating its product development cycle for enhanced time to market and competitive advantage. As a result of this direct digital production workflow, ACS has realized a 4X increase in capacity and 2X increase in efficiency while reducing material consumption by 50% and labor cost by as much as 80% on one part.ACS produces this two pin comms adaptor for in-ear communication headsets using 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Direct Digital Production solution. The part comprises a central body and two end caps - one houses a 3.5mm stereo socket, the other includes spring contacts to work with the two pin connector from the radio. A very fine pitch metric thread is printed into the parts and they are functional without any special post-processing or thread cutting required.ACS produces this two pin comms adaptor for in-ear communication headsets using 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Direct Digital Production solution. The part comprises a central body and two end caps - one houses a 3.5mm stereo socket, the other includes spring contacts to work with the two pin connector from the radio. A very fine pitch metric thread is printed into the parts and they are functional without any special post-processing or thread cutting required.ACS Custom

“Figure 4 technology has been an integral part of our workflow for the past two years,” said Andy Shiach, managing director, ACS Custom. “Through collaboration with 3D Systems’ team, we’ve been able to maximize the technology’s role in our business and have elevated our company to a whole new level. The unique solution was designed specifically for our application and has helped us dramatically increase production capacity and efficiency as well as unparalleled surface finish to deliver high-quality products to our customers.”

ACS built its business around a 100% digital workflow that provides customers with quick access to one-of-a-kind articles. 3D Systems’ team worked closely with the team at ACS Custom to understand their specific application needs which resulted in a direct digital production solution.

At the core of this solution is 3D Systems’ Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10 material – the company’s first photopolymer for additive manufacturing that exhibits thermoplastic behaviors, providing a combination of speed, accuracy, strength, and durability previously only associated with injection molding output. This material has unique and compelling properties that represent significant improvements in first-time print yield, heat deflection, UV stability, durability, flexibility, and impact strength, while also enabling new biocompatible and direct digital production workflows such as the one designed for ACS. Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10’s material properties – which include being biocompatible capable per ISO10993-5 and ISO10993-10 - results in a long-wear device that enables enhanced sound transmission and quality.

ACS Custom is using 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Standalone 3D printer to take products from concept to prototype and final product. The Figure 4 platform is well-suited to these types of custom production applications that require rapid turnaround. The combination of Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10 and Figure Standalone enables fast print speed up to 62 mm/hr at 50 micron layer thickness to deliver new levels of productivity to ACS.

Figure 4 Standalone also includes 3D Sprint software. An all-in-one additive manufacturing software, 3D Sprint enables file optimization, preparation, and printing with a suite of advanced features for design, file correction, analysis and more.

“3D Sprint is very intuitive in terms of layout, and the support features are really good,” explained Dan Bennett, technical director, ACS Custom. “When the outside surface quality is important, we can reduce the touchpoint size and position of supports with precision. This allows us to produce a final product that is comfortable for the customer.”

In addition to direct production applications, ACS Custom uses its 3D printers for eggshell casting. This technique takes advantage of the ability to print ultra-thin walls with Figure 4 to create molds for injecting silicone with Figure 4 EGGSHELL-AMB 10 material. Once injected, the 3D printed mold can be broken and peeled away like an eggshell to reveal a silicone part that ACS Custom post-processes, marks, and finishes.

“3D Systems’ customer-centric solutions approach to innovation underlies everything we do – from understanding the customer workflow and application through to complete solution development,” said Scott Anderson, VP & segment leader for manufacturing & prototyping, 3D Systems. “This highly market-driven approach allows our team the opportunity to engage unique applications for each customer and deliver solutions that propel their innovation and customer value to the next level. Our collaboration with ACS Custom showcases how the Figure 4 solution (hardware, software, and materials) enables direct and indirect digital production to increase efficiency, capacity, and flexibility, while concurrently offering superior end-part quality. This reinforces how additive manufacturing solutions can truly drive competitive advantage.”

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FedEx SenseAware

Time for Tracking to Improve?

Whenever a vaccine is ready for distribution to the global population, its distribution is sure to create an entirely new batch of challenges. Accurate tracking that goes beyond the traditional scanning that many logistics providers leverage will prove instrumental, especially as security concerns surface. 

To combat these challenges FedEx recently announced the launch of SenseAware ID, a lightweight sensor-based logistics device that delivers a new level of precision tracking. The enhanced location visibility provided by this technology will create opportunities for FedEx customers to reimagine their supply chain through real-time updates on a package’s location within the FedEx Express network. SenseAware ID will improve the safety, security and timeliness of deliveries – key attributes for packages that contain critical contents such as life-saving pharmaceuticals and emergency medical supplies.

The detailed location data provided by SenseAware ID is a critical differentiator for healthcare industry customers, and FedEx expects to use this new technology with anticipated COVID-19 vaccine shipments. The rollout of SenseAware ID is well-timed as FedEx continues to move life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for healthcare customers throughout the U.S.

“Package tracking and visibility are more important now than ever, as businesses have become increasingly reliant on timely deliveries,” said Robert B. Carter, executive vice president and chief information officer, FedEx Corporation. “Created by our innovation teams at FedEx, SenseAware ID was designed to give our customers the precise level of tracking they’ve been looking for, enabling them to optimize their supply chains and make any necessary adjustments during the journey of their shipments.”

Sense AwareFedEx SenseAwareFedEx has long been a pioneer in sensor-based logistics, providing advanced tracking of urgent and high value shipments for over a decade through its proprietary SenseAware portfolio. SenseAware ID is the latest innovation in FedEx sensor technology, designed to make sensor-based logistics more accessible to FedEx customers.

SenseAware ID uses a lightweight, compact sensor that transmits precise package location data every two seconds via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to WiFi access points or established gateway devices throughout the FedEx Express network. Packages equipped with the SenseAware ID sensor are tracked hundreds of times versus dozens of times with traditional package scanning protocols, which provides an unprecedented amount of real-time data about the location of the shipment.

As part of the initial roll-out, SenseAware ID sensors are being applied to First Overnight shipments within the U.S. domestic FedEx Express network. An initial round of customers in the healthcare, aerospace and retail industries will receive access to the enhanced data in November 2020. FedEx expects to expand access to this precision location data to additional customers throughout the first half of 2021. SenseAware ID will eventually be made available for a broad range of premium FedEx Express services.

The enhanced package visibility data provided by SenseAware ID will give FedEx healthcare customers the opportunity to closely monitor and proactively protect shipments using additional FedEx healthcare services, including cold-chain storage, thermal blankets and temperature controlled containers. SenseAware ID is expected to play a critical role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines using the FedEx First Overnight service, helping ensure these sensitive shipments are delivered quickly and safely.