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Fresh Thinking at Thogus Products

February 19, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 16:18

Progressive, seeking niche markets, doing what few have done before, anticipating the next big thing: These thoughts came to mind as I toured Thogus’ manufacturing facility one month ago. The company president, 34-year old Matt Hlavin, has a knack for discovering what’s new, cool, and effective for his 60-person manufacturing firm. The company’s roots are in plastic injection molding, but it is quickly changing to adjust to recent industry trends and opportunities. For instance, the company has purchased two FDM 400mc machines from Stratasys, allowing it to quickly manufacture thermoplastic parts in volumes that would be difficult or impossible to justify with tooling.

The company is currently running 27 injection-molding presses, but Hlavin believes the company will have as many or more FDM and other additive manufacturing (AM) systems within five years. He believes AM technology is game changing and will have a lasting impact on the way products are developed and manufactured. When I said to him that some companies will send an AM model with their request for a quote (to better communicate the description of the work and potentially lowering the quote), he responded by saying, “We having been sending a AM model with our quotes to those requesting one.” The customer will say, “What’s this?” and a Thogus employee will say, “It’s your part.” So far, they have not lost a job using this approach.

One job involved the redesign and manufacture of a drag chain link for the mining industry. The goal was to reduce weight and complexity of the assembly. The redesign eliminated six parts and reduced weight by 70%. The part was manufactured in PC/ABS using one of the FDM 400mc systems. As the market grows for the product, the company expects to produce tooling and will injection mold it. For now, AM is meeting the need.

James Cameron Uses 3D Printing

February 5, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 15:15

About a year ago, entertainer Jay Leno presented the use of laser scanning and 3D printing in a video clip on the Jay Leno’s Garage website. I learned this week that it has become the most popular video on the website. Perhaps it will take celebrities, such as Leno, to help create the awareness that these technologies deserve to become more broadly adopted.

On Tuesday of this week, I listened to inspiring anecdotes from film maker James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, at SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, California. SolidWorks co-founder Jon Hirschtick interviewed him in front of more than 5,000 engineers, designers, and others interested in SolidWorks. I was surprised and glad to hear him say that he uses 3D printing to help bring some of his creations to life. What’s more, he envisions a day when the technology will be used to print parts and products on Mars rather than transporting them from earth.

I was one of the lucky few to meet Cameron and have a short conversation with him. We talked about 3D printing and he agreed that there’s indeed a future market for an ultra-inexpensive version targeted at children for entertainment. I said to him, “You and I grew up with the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker, but the 21st Century “thing maker” will be an inexpensive 3D printer.” He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with enthusiasm, although maybe he was only being kind. I gave him my business card, mildly hinting that it’s a project we could work on together, knowing clearly that the odds of it are slim, at best.

I found Cameron to be a nice guy and very down to earth. It’s no secret that he started his career as a machinist. He’s a hands-on guy that fully understands the value of getting your hands dirty and making stuff. During his interview with Hirschtick, he explained how he and his team designed and built a 12.7 kg (28 lb) stereoscopic camera used to shoot much of Avatar. Previous generation stereoscopic cameras were as large and heavy as refrigerators. Cameron surprised many by discussing everything from the use of tools for finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics to deep sea exploration and space travel.

Avatar has received nine Academy Award nominations and broke box office records. Cameron also produced Titanic, the Terminator movies, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, and many television documentaries. It’s good to know that people like Leno and Cameron are not only familiar with 3D printing, but they’re also using it and telling others about it.