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Does Rapid Tooling Have a Future?

June 15, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:08

Some believe it does not. Indeed, the group of methods and technologies loosely labeled as “rapid tooling” has struggled. Several are on “life-support” while others have all but disappeared. Still others have remained in the R&D phase and may never become commercially available. 

Not all is dismal, however. Some of the companies that offer direct metal deposition are doing fine. One of the advantages of direct metal is the production of high-performance tooling using copper alloy cores and hard mold surfaces. Ford has sputtered with its Sprayform process, but Praxair is moving it ahead impressively. RSP Tooling, with its steel spray process, has received strong backing from Belcan Corp. and is on track, especially for forging and die cast tooling. 

So, be careful not to conclude that rapid tooling may never meet expectations. It is true that CNC machined tooling has improved dramatically over the past few years, but don’t rule out some of the unconventional approaches to toolmaking, especially for niche applications. There’s riches in niches.

Rapid Prototyping’s Evolution

June 1, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 19:53

I have long believed that the development of rapid prototyping will follow the path of the computer industry. When stereolithography, laminated object manufacturing, and Cubital’s process were first introduced, they were like mainframe computing. The machines were centralized and people would submit jobs for processing. Stereolithography is still alive and well, but Cubital is no longer in business and paper lamination technology is on life support. 

In the context of computing, the introduction of systems from Stratasys, 3D Systems, and others a few years ago reminds me of the introduction of minicomputers, such as DEC’s VAX computer. More recently, some of these same companies have introduced machines with the goal of decentralizing the technology and making it easier and less expensive to use. The Dimension product from Stratasys and ZPrinter 310 from Z Corp. are having an impact (both are priced at $29,900), similar to the UNIX workstations of the early 1980s. 

None of these products, in their current form, will experience the widespread success of the personal computer. I do believe, however, that such a product will develop, but the vendor that produces it will need to further improve reliability and ease of use, especially when dealing with support material. Most importantly, this company will be faced with expanding the market, and this could be the most challenging. Rather than selling systems by the hundreds per year, the company must find a way to sell thousands. For this to occur, it will likely require the marketing muscle of an established printer company. Several large companies have been tracking the RP market for some time, so I believe it’s just a matter of time before one of them jumps in. That’s when the PC of the RP industry will emerge.