Stratasys takes 3D printing mainstream

8:01 AM, Jan 19, 2011   |    comments
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Stratasys: From design to reality via 3D printer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Scott Crump's $120 million a year company had a very humble beginning.  All Crump wanted to do was help his daughter make a toy.

"I decided to create a toy froggy," says Crump, who took a hot glue gun, and began building up a frog with glue, layer by layer.

"Once I saw my daughter using the part," said Crump, "and having gone through a number of years trying to get to market with a product, that's when the "aha" moment occurred."

Crump and his wife had another company in what Crump refers to as the "semi-conductor, automation area."  He knew firsthand the expense and time involved in taking an idea through the prototype stage, and finally into a completed product.

Crump realized the process he used to creat that toy frog could be automated on a larger, more sophisticated scale to create models manufacturers could use to develop parts for their own products.

Crump began experimenting with materials in his kitchen, then in his garage, and eventually created the process called fused deposition modeling.

From that came a 3D printer, and Eden Prairie-based Stratasys.

The process allows engineers to see their plans jump from design to reality literally in a matter of minutes.

"A thought," explained Education Channel Manager Jesse Roitenberg, "They turn that into a design; they'll take it into 3D CAD."

CAD is computer assisted design, which can create a 3D design.  Stratasys takes that information into its 3D printer.  A spool of plastic thread is then extruded from the machine and forms the part.  Depending on the design, the part could be static, or have actual moving parts, all created with the 3D printer.

How does that help manufacturers?

"You can prototype, perfect the design and save tons of money when you get to the tooling stage," said Communications Manager Joe Hiemenz.

Hiemenz says Stratasys used the process when it needed a small part for one of its own machines.

"That particular bezel would have cost $100,000 to make a mold of that, to then make subsequent multiple parks from that.  This technology, it caost about $50 to make one of those bezels," said Hiemenz.

3D printers are now used by engineers, auto parts manufacturers, medical device makers, architects.  Virtually anyone who needs to see a model of their work.

 Roitenberg is in charge of putting 3D printers into schools.  The applications are endless.  Stratasys is sponsoring a robotics team that uses the 3D printer to create parts for its robot.  Schools have used the device to scan and create exact replicas of fossils.

"Now they can share it, now thy can have the kids handle it, touch it," says Roitenberg.

Doctors can scan body parts to better plan for or develop strategies for patients.

Perhaps most exciting, some of the models coming out of 3D printers are being used as actual parts, skipping the manufacturing process all together.

"This is a component of an MRI," said Hiemenz, as he held up a large, round drum that became an actual part for a finished product.

Crump has big plans for Stratasys as the technology continues to catch on and be accepted into different areas of manufacturing and design.

"With Hewlett Packard's help, they're in the initial process of taking our 3D printer and selling that globally to make it a standard in the industry of mechanical and architectural design," said Crump, who also envisions companies sending designs directly to Stratasys to be printed out as either models or working parts.

With endless possibilities in business, design and education, 3D printers are likely to become as ubiquitous as the office copy machine.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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