This month, our focus turns to a vital part of the additive manufacturing industry: service bureaus. Service bureaus, big or small, can be understood on some level as the gatekeepers to AM: they provide access to the technology to businesses or individuals that are maybe not ready to invest in it themselves or don’t have the required skills. In other words, service bureaus help to make AM accessible and provide their own expertise so that customers can optimize their products using 3D printing. In light of this new focus topic, we will look at a number of AM service bureau case studies this month, which will illuminate exactly how working with a bureau can be impactful.
My Track Technology (MTT), a Canada-based developer of an eco-friendly, electric remote-controlled track vehicle, was able to leverage 3D printing and speed up the product development for its product with the help of major AM service provider Shapeways. By using Shapeways’ resources, MTT was able to reduce time and costs in the prototyping stage of its vehicle development as well as for the eventual production of end-use components.
MTT’s vehicle (which goes by the same name) is an electric, remote controlled track vehicle that is specifically designed to operate in extreme environments. The vehicle is notable for its compact size and low center of gravity, which make it suitable for a number of civilian and military uses, such as emergency rescues, mining transport and agricultural operations.
The company, which completed a functional prototype of the MTT vehicle earlier this year, found that 3D printing could help accelerate the product’s development. Initially, the My Track Technology team purchased a desktop FDM 3D printer, which proved to have several advantages. From there, the MTT team decided to expand its use of 3D printing and investigate higher quality processes by reaching out to Shapeways.
“When buying a printer you have an amazing amount of choice offered to you,” said Michael Martel, the head of MTT product development. “The problem is to have a printer for all of the applications. The size of the parts, the surface finish, the resistance and the productivity of this printer are all to be considered. Unless you have $100,000 or more to invest in an SLS or HP printer you will never have the quality, robustness, precision and surface finish of a Shapeways part.”
3D printing has provided MTT with more flexibility – it does not have to produce molds for small batch components – which has led to cost and time savings. According to Martel, MTT has saved as much as six months in product development time by working with the service bureau. In terms of design, the technology has also created new opportunities. The Canadian company has primarily used 3D printing to validate vehicle components before transitioning to injection molding or thermo molding. However, 10 end-use parts for the MTT-154 2020 will be manufactured using mostly SLS 3D printing and Nylon PA12.
Presently, My Track Technology is producing units of the MTT-154 2020 vehicle which will be delivered to customers with reservations. The current design consists of one unit with a trailer/sled, though there is an option to combine multiple units for special applications. The company is also taking orders to small MTT-like robots with frames built entirely using SLS 3D printing.