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 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.”