COVID-19 Update: Operations, Serving Educators & Joining the Fight

Update May 29, 2020

It’s been a month since our last update, and our COVID-19 response is still going strong! On May 12, we were honored to receive an honorable mention in the America Makes Fit to Face – Mask Design Challenge.  Designer Mike Battaglia and Engineer Samantha Reeve submitted a mask in two sizes designed to be printed with NinjaTek Cheetah. We continue to collaborate with projects for supplying PPE and consulting on new solutions for face shields to ventilators.

Our Houston factory is still closed to the public, but our team remains committed to building your Gigabots and filling your supply orders and service needs.

Gigabot customers around the world are tirelessly supporting their communities and we are honored to share their stories. If you have been doing COVID-19 work, we’d love to hear from you!

AUSTIN UPDATE
Thanks to the efforts of so many groups in the city, the PPE needs for healthcare workers there have been met and we have wound down our collection boxes for 3D printed PPE.

HOUSTON UPDATE
As the city begins to open back up we have teamed up with Impact Hub Houston on PPE for the People, an effort to provide PPE to workers in minority and under-served communities who are at greater risk of critical illness from COVID-19. Please support this project by sharing, donating and letting local businesses know about the opportunity.

PUERTO RICO UPDATE
The PPE support work in Puerto Rico continues and the Gigabot collaboration at Engine-4 keeps churning out supplies for the island.

If you’d like to be connected to any local effort we would be happy to make introductions and provide resources. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org.

Update: April 25, 2020

It’s hard to believe that two more weeks have past since our last post! We continue to aggregate and collect your PPE donations in Austin, Houston and PR. We also (just met the deadline for the America Makes Mask Fit Challenge). The final design will be posted to our NIH 3D print exchange tomorrow:)

We continue to be inspired by YOU, and welcome your pics and videos for future stories!

For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew, Capital Factory and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
Capital Factory
 701 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701
(located in the parking garage, next to the loading dock:)
 
HOUSTON
TXRX is winding down its collection of its 3d printed face shield as they have been able to move to injection molding; a move we fully support! We are keeping our drop box open for community PPE donations and will make sure they get donated to those in need. Currently we can accept: assembled face shields, ear savers and Montana Masks. As we get more requests we will post opportunities here.

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

Update: April 10, 2020

What a week! You all have done an amazing job helping our neighbors & the community at large!

While we continue to iterate this face shield design for the Texas Children’s Hospital (you can view the design on the NIH 3D Print Exchange), as well as hands-free door pulls, we have been blown away by the many Gigabots around the world who are helping with the fight. We’ve started collecting some stories. If you would like to be added, please feel free to share your pictures, details and video with info@re3d.org!


Some of you have also asked how you can use Gigabot and/or other printers to support the local movements near our offices. For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
 
 
 
HOUSTON
TXRX and the amazing maker-community continue to organize face shield collection around Houston.  We are donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  We’ve received up to 300 donations in 6 hours- keep it up!
More information and the design file is available here.
 

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
 
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

 

If you live outside of these areas and/or are seeking ways to contribute:

A Form to Volunteer is Available Here. We will be responding to inquiries this weekend and doing our best to facilitate introductions:)

Update: April 3, 2020

re:3D is working on a number of different projects related to 3D printing and COVID response.  Our Houston factory is helping to support two efforts.  The first is supporting the efforts of TXRX and the amazing maker-community organizing taking place around Houston.  re:3D is donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  Second, the re:3D design team is prototyping a custom face shield design, in conjunction with doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital.  The new design incorporates a pre-cut clear plastic face shield with a 3D printed holder/headband.

In Austin, re:3D is rallying the local maker community.  While there are a number of people working on the 3D printed PPE issue in the Austin area, re:3D is hoping to help organize these efforts.  The Austin team is designing hands-free door pulls and intubation boxes, and we will be releasing all of the 3D printable open-source designs that we have created, including face shields, door pulls and anything else we develop, free of charge. We are opening Austin community drop boxes at multiple locations where anyone who 3D prints can donate their COVID-19 parts. location information will be released as soon as it’s finalized.

In Puerto Rico, re:3D is supporting efforts led by Engine-4 on 3d printing face masks and ventilator splitters. Thanks to efforts by Parallel18, our Gigabot has been relocated to Engine-4 to print for this effort and we are hosting weekly calls for healthcare professionals, designers and makers to organize the community to support creating PPE unique to the needs on the island. We are connecting with every available Gigabot owner on the island to help them join the cause.

For anyone who wants to volunteer to help, please fill out this form.

Updated: March 25, 2020

To our Global Gigabot Family and Supporters,

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. The 3D printing community is a talented, diverse and compassionate arm of the creative tech ecosystem. We are energized and inspired by the mass mobilization of 3D printing to tackle COVID-19 head-on by providing protective gear to medical personnel, medical equipment to aid victims and filling gaps in supply chains. Every day, you are proving that this technology changes the world for the better. Keep at it!

re:3D IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

We have been closely following COVID-19 developments in our areas and listening to the recommendations from local and federal authorities. The small yet mighty re:3D team has always been mobile and adaptable, and we are continuing our regular operations while keeping the health and safety of our team at the forefront of all considerations. Here’s how:

    • Your Gigabots® are being built and shipped on their regular schedule.
    • Your supply orders are being fulfilled with minimal delay.
    • Your 3D printing, design and 3D scanning services are moving forward as planned.
    • As an essential business, the Houston factory is open and fully operational. In-person visits are restricted to deliveries and pickups only to respect guidance on social distancing.
    • Meetups, walk-in tours and in-person classes are suspended until further notice.
    • Classes will move to online-only as format and demand allows.

$100 SERVICE CREDITS FOR EDUCATORSThe education landscape has dramatically changed in the last few weeks and as many educators gamely adapt to new methods of teaching, you have awed us with your adaptability, tenacity, and positivity. In recognition of your herculean efforts, now through April 10th we are offering to educators a $100 credit, with no minimum purchase required, for re:3D printing, designing and scanning services.

For all those schooling from home, we are extending a 20% off discount on all services (scanning, design, printing, materials testing) for any effort supporting distance learning.

Service quotes can be requested at re3d.org/services

HELPING THE EFFORT TO FIGHT COVID-19

re:3D’s Houston factory is equipped with a printer farm of large-format industrial Gigabot® 3D FFF and FGF printers, a metrology-grade 3D scanner, a full machine shop that includes two CNCs, manual lathe, drill press and cutting tools. This equipment and our team of 25 engineers, designers and technicians is available to fabricate equipment for healthcare providers that has been reviewed for viability and safety by medical professionals. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org to begin coordination. We are happy to prototype any life-savings device for free in order to expedite review by medical professionals.

For those looking for ways to put your 3D printing know-how to work in the effort to fight COVID-19, we are collecting contact information to share further developments and opportunities to 3D print for those in need.

 A Form to Volunteer is Available Here 

Additionally, a great list of other projects has been curated by our friends at the non-profit Women In 3D Printing.

Stay Healthy and Keep Printing!

  ~Gigabot & The re:3D Team

Gigabot Engineering Updates – February 2020

Over the last few months, our engineering team has made some iterative design changes to both our Gigabot 3+ and Gigabot X 3D Printers.

Parts modified are:

Gigabot 3+

  • 10063  GB3+ Bed Side Plate
  • Z-Axis Stepper Motors
  • 11907 GB3+ Acme Flange Nut Cup
  • 11093 GB3+ X/Y Upright

Gigabot X

  • 11377 GBX Stepper Driver

 

View the video below to find out how they’ve changed!

High-Voltage Innovation: Creating Tools and Training Models with a Utility Company

Here’s a question: when was the last time you thought about what happens when you flip on a light switch?

We take for granted this everyday miracle without much thought to what goes on behind the scenes to make the lights turn on. Only once the power goes out do people suddenly take notice of this invisible luxury that our daily lives rely on. Lighting our homes, charging our devices, refrigerating our food, powering hospitals and public transportation and the nation’s economy – life as we know it hinges on the seamless, invisible flow of electrons we call electricity.

But, perhaps, everyone once in a while, you have taken note – maybe while driving on the highway past towering transmission lines stretching as far as the eye can see – of the massive system around us that goes mostly unnoticed on a daily basis, and how little you know about how that system functions.

Today’s story may change that for you.

The electrical grid in this country is over a century old. The first commercial central power plant in the US – Pearl Street Station in Manhattan – opened in 1882 and served 82 customers.¹ Today, the US electrical grid is made up of over 7,300 power plants and 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines, serving over 145 million customers.²

The focus of our story today is one of the largest of the roughly 3,000 utility companies keeping the lights on in the US. (Due to company policy they cannot disclose their name in external-company features and thus will remain nameless in this article).

Making safety a priority with hands-on training

Jim Patchen is a high voltage work methods specialist for said utility company. His job is to develop procedures on how to work safely around high voltage. His office is a veritable mini-museum of utility relics from a bygone era.

As equipment from the field has been retired over the years, he’s rescued treasures from a certain fate as scrap metal. Artifacts like ammeters, voltmeters, control switches, and molten and re-hardened piles of metal from errant tool mishaps start at the floor and line shelves up to the ceiling.

As for his collector’s habit, Patchen explains his motivation behind this essential preservation of history. “It is important to understand the legacy of this industry,” he says. “Early on, work methods and tools were quite primitive, but over time they have evolved. It’s good to know where you came from so that you know where you’re going.”

The job of every utility company is to generate electricity and transport it to customers. This is, of course, a highly simplified explanation, but the general flow is as such: electricity is created at a generator – taking the form of power plants, hydroelectric dams, solar panel arrays, or wind turbines – transported along transmission lines, and distributed to communities for end use.

Along the way are substations – the large, somewhat hectic-looking clusters of wires and electrical equipment you may notice while driving on the highway – which transform the electricity into high voltage for fast transport along transmission lines and into lower voltage for its final use in homes and businesses. Far from the chaos that they can appear to be to the untrained eye, substations are meticulously-organized, well-oiled machines that are crucial components of the electrical grid. And while designed for maximum safety of workers, they are also extremely high-voltage environments, which inherently pose a unique set of dangers to those in the vicinity.

“Working in a substation is difficult,” explains Patchen, “because it’s many, many circuits coming into one small location, so the high voltage environment is really concentrated. We have to work really [safely] around that to prevent injuries and incidents that could affect the grid.”

This particular utility company has over 1,000 substations in its service territory. As a work methods specialist, Patchen’s current role revolves around creating procedures to ensure the safety of workers in addition to the integrity of the grid and the power they’re providing to consumers. “If you make a mistake in a substation, you can impact thousands of customers,” he explains. “If I drop a screwdriver in a substation, I can take out 90,000 customers. So, everything we do is critical.”

Workers at the company go through a roughly three-year apprenticeship of rigorous training on how to work safely in such an environment. “Traditional training involves PowerPoints and lecturing,” explains Patchen. Unfortunately, he continues, the retention rate of knowledge taught in these sorts of settings tends to be abysmal. Their goal is to incorporate more tactile learning to keep students engaged throughout lessons.

There is always hands-on training out in the field for all students in the apprenticeship program, but the company wanted the ability to bring this type of learning into classrooms on a daily basis. They saw the value of using scale models of real-world equipment on which students could practice skills like protective grounding in a safe, unenergized environment. The models give students the opportunity to test their proficiency, and teachers the ability to confirm that their lessons are getting through and sticking. “They’re able to practice and prove their understanding of what they’re being taught,” explains Patchen, “and then you’re able to validate knowledge that way.”

Patchen began by building these training models by hand. He estimates that he created his first substation model in 1999, using components that he found at the hardware store. Cardboard tubes and spark plugs come together to form a miniature substation on which students can practice, with no danger of a deadly misstep.

When Patchen caught wind of the powers of 3D printing, its potential to be applied to his work was immediately apparent. “When 3D printing came into the picture, we thought, ‘Oh man, we could really make these models much more realistic.’” He also saw the opportunity to start reproducing models for other locations at a pace that just wasn’t feasible when he was building each one by hand.

“If I was gonna buy a printer, I wanted one with a big print platform,” Patchen recounts. Their size requirements are varied, he explains. Sometimes their prototyping needs are small-scale, but other times they want the ability to create large objects that would dwarf the average desktop printer. “We wanted…a single purchase that would best fit both those kinds of parameters,” he says.

He did his research and found re:3D. “The Gigabot was amazing because of its large platform and the ability to print small and large, no matter what our needs might be.” Patchen is now in the process of 3D modeling his original substation in CAD and printing out its 21st century cousin.

Patchen explains that the company recently invested in a state-of-the-art training facility, where he sees abundant opportunities to use their Gigabot for educational purposes. “Our goal as a utility is to be a leader in our industry,” he says. “In order for us to do that, we have to lead in safety, innovation, and technology. We believe that 3D printing is gonna help us get there.” 

Tool creation from then to now

One challenge of the work is that, between different eras of design and the wide range of equipment manufacturers, a single type of equipment may have several different designs out in the field.

Because of this, there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all tool for every job and every company. This can leave utilities to do their own tool creation when needed, to make the job safer and more efficient for workers and keep power flowing to their customers. Oftentimes, workers see areas for improvement, opportunities for a new tool that doesn’t exist that would make their jobs easier.

“When I first hired on, I was a high-voltage substation electrician. I worked in the field for many years,” explains Patchen. “If you had an idea for a tool that you wanted to create, you would have to draw it on a piece of paper or a napkin and bring it down to a local machine shop, and then they would do their best to build it.” That process, Patchen recounts, could take weeks to months – and that was just to get an initial prototype.

Anyone who’s been through the development of a product knows that the back and forth of the process – when not done in-house – can be quite costly in both time and capital. The first iteration comes back – often after a lengthy lead time – and design flaws become apparent. Revisions are made and submitted, and the process is repeated. More waiting, more money.

“Today with 3D printing, you can take your ideas and concepts and prove them out,” Patchen explains. “The average person can change the industry.”

3D printing cuts down on the tool design process in both the time and cost departments. A design can be printed and reworked on repeat until all the kinks are ironed out. “Then,” Patchen explains, “I could go spend the money at the mill or the machine shop, and it’s actually effective spending at that point.”

It goes without saying that this also slashes a massive amount of time from the process. They can internally turn around dozens of 3D printed iterations and settle on a final design in less time than a machine shop could get a first version back to them. “It’s a very cost-efficient way to change the industry using the field employees’ input.”

The challenges of tool development

Nowadays, Patchen’s tool creation process typically involves a manufacturer, so that when a design is finalized it can be mass-produced and made available on the market to any utility company who may also have a need for it.

There are several challenges that Patchen is confronted with when he’s approached with a tool idea from a field employee.

The first is the broad range of equipment designs that they’re making these tools to service. “In these substations, there’s stuff that was built in 1920, there’s stuff that was built last month,” he explains. This means that the same device with the same function can take different forms depending on what era it’s from. “When we have to build something, we want to make it fit all of those,” he says. “We want to be able to make one product, one time, and do it right.”

The second challenge is their partner in tool creation: the manufacturers. Patchen starts the process by approaching a manufacturer with a tool concept, they come back with an initial design, and the utility workers trial it out in the field. This, Patchen explains, can be tricky with manufacturers who aren’t in their line of work. “A lot of times, when the manufacturer’s trying to understand what your needs are, they’re not in the field, they don’t work in your environment,” he says. “They make tools, [but] they don’t understand how you’re using them.”

This can result in tools that are inconvenient or awkward to use and therefore difficult to actually put into practice, defeating the purpose of creating them in the first place.

With 3D printing, Patchen found a solution to this flaw in their design process. “When you get an end-user involved in creating prototypes, you’re really closing the gap on the amount of time and the cost it takes to create useful tools.”

Now, he and his team handle the early stages of the process, modeling CAD files and printing initial prototypes in-house. By the time they approach a manufacturer with a tool concept, they have a 3D printed prototype that’s already been put through the ringer out in the field. This allows them to leapfrog several steps ahead in the production process. “3D printing has enabled us to improve our innovation when it comes to creating new tools or specialized tools across a very diverse line of equipment,” he explains. “We’re able to come up with concepts, print the prototypes, and trial them out in the field, so when we communicate back to our manufacturer, the data is more accurate.”

Rather than discovering a design flaw after something has been expensively injection-molded, Patchen and his team can work out the kinks on their end and ensure the design they send to a manufacturer is accurate from the get-go. All that’s left to do at that point is create the tooling to mass produce it. Says Patchen, “It saves [the manufacturer] money, it saves us money in the long run, and lots and lots of time.”

At the 2019 ICUEE conference in Louisville, Kentucky – the largest utility and construction trade show in North America – four tools Patchen and his team helped design were on display. It’s a big honor at such a lauded industry event, but his focus remains on safety and sharing innovation so that other utilities across the nation can benefit. “I’m not trying to make money,” says Patchen. “I’m just trying to make it better for the employees in the field.”

Sparking industry innovation through new tool creation

Where taking a tool from concept to a purchasable physical product used to be a months- to years-long process, Patchen explains that 3D printing has given them the ability to slash that development time down into the weeks. “That’s huge when it comes to our type of work where we’re in such a high-voltage, dangerous environment.”

Much of the challenge and danger of the job stems from the simple fact that a utility company’s singular focus is keeping the lights on.

When equipment needs maintenance, they do what they can to keep the power flowing. This means that workers are almost always working near energized, high-voltage equipment – hence the necessity of Patchen’s job. And although there is always an inherent level of risk to a job which necessitates working in close proximity to high voltage, Patchen’s aim is to protect workers through the development of new tools, training, and work methods.

“Technology is changing our industry,” says Patchen. “Every six months, there is something new.” The blistering pace of innovation lifts the industry as a whole, but the challenge, Patchen explains, is staying on the forefront of that.

“We don’t want to sit back and just watch that happen. We want to be a leader in that,” he explains. “3D printing gives us the ability to be part of that process – to lead innovation.”

One ubiquitous tool used in the field is a live line stick, commonly known in the business as a hot stick. The lengthy, fiberglass poles allow utility workers to perform a variety of tasks on energized equipment, insulating them from the electricity and keeping them at a distance from machinery in the case of a malfunction or electrical arcing. The end of the stick operates as a mount for a variety of different accessories that serve a wide range of purposes, like pulling fuse and operating switches. 

One hot stick variation that Patchen’s team uses is a switch lubricator. Workers were struggling to open sticky switches, often having to use a stick to forcibly hit at a switch five or six times. They remedied this with a hot stick that dispenses lubricant onto a switch so that it can be opened easily with one knock.

Part of the design is a control unit, mounted on the opposite end of the hot stick, with a button for the user to dispense the lubricant. The unit the manufacturer sent was large and clunky: a worker had to remove a hand from the stick in order to get to the button, sacrificing dexterity.

Patchen designed a new mount with a slim profile – probably a quarter of the size of the original unit – enabling the stick operator to keep both hands on the pole and simply move a thumb to hit the button. “We were able to use our 3D printer to create this new prototype that’s much more ergonomic and gives the end user more control when working in an energized, high-voltage environment.” Printed on their Gigabot and mounted to the pole with velcro straps, the new unit Patchen created is being adopted by the manufacturer as an option on new purchases.

Gigabot has opened a door for Patchen and his team, and the tool requests are streaming in.

There was the gas cap to attach a generator to an extended time fuel tank, out of stock when they desperately needed it during a widespread emergency and power outage. Patchen 3D printed it.

There was the camera mount hot stick used to inspect energized equipment that carried a price tag of nearly $500. Patchen printed it. Their 3D printed version of the mount attaches to other sticks they already have, at a grand total of $1.67 apiece.

The list goes on.

“We were recently approached by several field crews to create a special plastic cover that would protect them in high voltage environments,” Patchen says. There was no product on the market that fit the bill, so he got to work on a design with a manufacturer.

The equipment that needed to be covered took a wide range of forms in the field, complicating the product development process. Patchen gave the manufacturer drawings of the equipment and their product idea. Eight months later they still didn’t have a workable prototype.

Patchen stepped in. “I used my 3D printer, made a prototype, and got the product finished within three weeks. Now it’s actually purchasable on the market.”

But perhaps Patchen’s most impressive project of all is a small, unassuming plastic hook.

He and his team were confronted with a scenario in which they needed to perform maintenance on a 500 kV substation. “In our system, the highest voltage that we have – and one of our most critical circuits – is the 500 kV,” he explains. “To clear that equipment or take it out of service, we’d have to de-energize the whole grid, which can be quite costly – tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

A teammate came to him with an idea to circumvent the clearance with the help of a specially-designed plastic barrier which would allow them to safely perform maintenance without shutting down the system.

The solution came in the form of a rectangular-shaped, high-voltage plastic cover, which would enclose each of the 13.8 kV circuits that connect to the main 500 kV bank. The covers would be mounted from below and secured in place with rubber rope and plastic hooks. The hooks that the manufacturer sent with the covers, however, posed a problem.

Maneuvering from the ground at the end of a 14 foot hot stick, a worker had to insert one end of the hook into the eyelet of the plastic cover in order to fasten it. Workers were finding the hook’s design difficult to navigate into place at such an angle.

Patchen took the feedback from the field employees, reworked the hook’s design, and printed out a new version on their Gigabot. The slight tweaks to the hook’s form were a game-changer. Where workers previously had to fight the old hook into the eyelet at an awkward angle, the new design naturally wants to snap into place.

“This small, plastic hook took about three hours to print, and it cost around five dollars.” Patchen can’t underscore its value enough. “We were able to take that [3D printed] hook and share it with other crews, and we avoided many, many 500 kV clearances because of it. This small, five dollar device saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

He smiles and gestures towards their Gigabot. “That’s paid for the printer quite a few times.”

3D Printing Sparking Innovation at Stellar Industries

Have you ever walked by a construction site, looked at a massive piece of equipment that completely dwarves you, and wondered, “How do they change that massive tire if they get a flat?”

Stellar Industries has the answer to that question.

Stellar designs and manufactures hydraulic truck equipment – cranes, hooklifts, tire service, and more – for the construction, mining, and utility industries. In other words, they make the equipment to change those 12-foot-diameter tires, as well as perform a lot of the other service on hulking pieces of industrial machinery. It is interesting that 3D printing could be use to do something as intriguing as this. Luckily there are mark downs for those who are interested in finding computer systems that might be able to help.

A Gargantuan Operation in Garner

Stellar is based in the small Iowa city of Garner, and driving through downtown feels a little like driving through a Stellar Industries ad. Every other building seems to have a Stellar sign on its facade; the employee-owned company employs some 400 people there and sprawls across town.

Hydraulic truck manufacturing is a massive industrial operation that requires a lot of space, and the Stellar warehouses that dot the landscape each contain some portion of the truck-manufacturing process.

There’s the shop section, replete with engineering toys like enormous CNC machines and laser cutters, huge press brake machines that bend pieces of steel like putty, sparks flying from plasma cutting robotic arms and human welders alike. Another gargantuan building houses just the paint portion of the process, where truck bodies receive their coats on a journey along a carwash-esque track. The final stop of the trucks, the assembly building, is where everything comes together and the trucks take shape, workers flitting around the lifted rigs with tool boxes.

In a slightly less hectic area of the assembly building, a large wooden crate on wheels has arrived. It’s Stellar’s second Gigabot.

The Road to 3D Printing

“It was quite a journey.”

Engineering Manager at Stellar Industries Matt Schroeder recounted how they got to the point of having their second in-house 3D printer. “About 5 years ago, we looked at 3D printing, and it was just really expensive and very limited.”

What they were interested in doing was creating tools to help the folks in the assembly portion of the Stellar Industries operation.

“When we first started getting into the 3D printing realm, we needed some assembly fixtures.” Scott Britson is the Assistant Engineering Manager and has been in the Design and Engineering Department for 16 years.

Scott explained that different clients get differently configured trucks: different bodies, different components – sometimes customer-supplied – mounted in unique ways. They wanted to make the assembly team’s job easier in doing these custom setups, so that, as Scott explained, “when we repeat a truck for a customer, they get the same exact truck that they ordered from the first build to the eighth build.”

Stellar had in fact been creating these assembly fixtures themselves pre-3D printer, but their only option was to make them using what was available. Matt recounted, “Before our Gigabot – and before we would even contract out 3D printing – it would be a very intensive process of working either internally or externally with the machine shop to painstakingly make a prototype.”

The fixtures they made were heavy, costly, labor-intensive pieces which also had the negative effect of pulling their machine shop away from actually producing truck components. “We were using aluminum, we were using steel, we were having to machine stuff, we were having to weld stuff,” explained Scott. It was amounting to be too much of a labor, cash, and time sink to produce the tools.

Their attention turned to 3D printing.

“With 3D printing, we knew we could get lightweight, we could go into certain areas and cut places out of the part that we needed to go around,” Scott explained. “It’s a lot easier than sending it to our machine shop.”

They began by outsourcing their 3D print jobs to third party service bureaus, but they reached a stopping point where they were getting quoted longer and longer lead times. “We realized,” Matt recounted, “this is a core competency we need to develop in order to be able to have faster response times and control our own destiny.”

Thus began the hunt for a 3D printer of their own.

A Big Machine for Big Manufacturing

“When we looked at 3D printers a few years ago, you were limited by the 8 x 10s, the smaller, more toy things that sit on your computer desk,” Scott explained, “which really didn’t fit our needs.”

Stellar manufactures big, industrial equipment to service even bigger industrial equipment. They needed something to match that. “We needed to go to something that we could build bigger things, bigger fixtures for the types of trucks that we build,” said Scott.

Stellar prioritized a few important features to them: first on the list was size. Another deciding factor, Scott explained, was “the ability to upfit your 3D printer to the newest advancements and not be stuck at a version one, version two, version three.” They wanted something that could evolve with them and stay current with advancements in the industry without them having to buy an entirely new machine. And lastly, they were looking for a company that would come in and teach them, to help make their team 3D printer-literate.

“That’s where Gigabot came into our eyes as the clear leader,” said Scott.

“Right around the first of the year, we received our first Gigabot,” Matt recounted, “and we immediately put it to work that day, printing some prototype parts and things that were in a backlog that we really needed to get a project back on task.”

They completed most of that work in about two to three weeks, explained Matt, and then an interesting phenomenon occurred. People from other departments got wind of the new toy at the office and started coming by to check it out.

Igniting Innovation

“It’s kind of a piece that everybody wants to come up and see, everybody wants to take a look,” said Scott, of their Gigabot.

It didn’t take long before projects that weren’t originally on Stellar’s radar began springing up.

Scott recounted, “We’ve had our assembly department come up to the Gigabot and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing that part, do you think we can get something like that for this?'” The Stellar engineering department works to draws up the idea in CAD and print out the design on their Gigabot. Within a matter of days, they can have the part in their hands.

The increased creativity and innovation sparked by the in-house 3D printer, as both Scott and Matt described, is palpable.

The whole Stellar team is, as Scott explained, “constantly thinking of new ideas and new things to help them improve their throughput.” As Matt put it, “Once we brought [Gigabot] in, it excited people’s ability to think outside the box; it got people thinking about innovation in ways that we originally we weren’t intending.”

Their Gigabot was suddenly awash in a steady stream of projects coming from all angles.

“Things that we wouldn’t have initially thought of,” Matt explained, “like, go/no go quality tools.” A common misconception about 3D printers – that they’re really only for prototyping – was quickly dispelled once Stellar got their hands on their Gigabot.

“I think something that was very eye-opening to me is the range of materials that we could print,” Matt mused.

“I was of the mindset that we could just print something in PLA and it was just this hard plastic proof-of-concept,” he explained, “but we’re printing very tough and durable materials, we’re printing things that can bend and stretch and flex. We’re printing gaskets. Things like that are not what we had originally envisioned, but we’re leveraging those now. Being able to print those large varieties of materials is really helping us.”

In Stellar’s weld shop are large 3D printed tack fixtures used for cranes. These fixtures are 70-85% cheaper than traditional metal fixturing, and let them keep their production equipment focused on end-product parts. 3D printing them also allows Stellar to keep their lead times down; depending on the size of the part, they are often able to deliver fixtures or tooling with just 24 hours’ notice.

Also in the welding area is an assortment of colorful, 3D printed rings used to designate the holes used for specific tool models. Using the 3D printed collars allows them to match the collars with any additional plastic parts, and are much more durable than denoting them with markings in paint or tape.

Their maintenance department has taken a liking to the new 3D printer, finding ways to cut costs on expensive replacements. “We had a small component for a paint system that was several hundred dollars to replace, and you had to buy the entire kit to do so,” Matt recounted. “We were able to look at the small part, we created it in 3D and printed it over that night, and they were up and going the next day. So it was very fast and it was very economical.”

And, of course, there are the assembly jigs and fixtures that originally spurred the Gigabot purchase in the first place. The lightweight, low-cost 3D printed pieces are night and day compared to their first-generation, machine-milled and welded metal brethren, and they’re helping the Stellar assembly team become more efficient and effective with custom truck builds.

“We’re able to keep spacing on parts, we’re able to drill new holes in the fixtures for the mounting,” Scott explained. “We’re able to do a lot more for our shop to make it more consistent – they’re not having to get the tape measure out and make sure they’re not getting mis-measurements. They have the fixtures there so that they’re getting the exact location that they need.”

Stellar’s mind has been firmly changed since their original belief that 3D printing was solely a prototyping tool. Matt mused, “I think there is going to come a tipping point where we will produce more and more production parts on our machines versus prototyping parts.”

Bringing in Backup

“I don’t think in the beginning we knew that we would be running the Gigabot nonstop,” said Scott.

“From the day that we got it to about 45 days down the road, that thing was running 40 days, day and night,” he recalled. “The only time that it was down was because…we didn’t have it running through the weekend, or we were letting the bed cool to pull the prints off the Gigabot.”

Matt also recounted the early days, ping-ponging between projects they originally intended for their bot and new unexpected ones that came out of left field. The two angles kept their machine plenty busy. “In short, we were able to keep the machine running non-stop for about six months,” he said. “There were just a couple of times for some minimal preventative maintenance that we had the machine down, and it’s still running around the clock today.”

“In fact,” Matt continues, “we have been so busy we’ve had to get a second machine going.”

In the quiet side room off the main assembly floor, they pry the wooden boards of the crate apart with the excitement of kids opening up a new toy, unveiling Stellar Gigabot number two.

Within minutes of getting it uncrated and into the office, it’s already begun printing.

Learn more about Stellar Industries on their website: www.stellarindustries.com

Making Electric Motorcycle Battery Packs with Farasis Energy

“I got into 3D printing while I was in college doing my electrical engineering degree. One of the things that really got me interested in it was being able to make a box for the electronics projects that wasn’t made out of cardboard and duct tape, which is kind of a trademark of most EE students.”

This is Chase Nachtmann, a Systems Engineer at Farasis Energy.

“That kind of sparked my interest in working with 3D printers, because it’s a way of designing things…and having them come out exactly the way that you want.”

Nachtmann ended up managing the high-end industrial 3D printer at his university, and has now put this knowledge to use post-graduation.

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Farasis, based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, makes lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles. They use Gigabot to print parts for a variety of applications throughout their battery pack development process.

Part of that process involves bolting their pack onto a shake table for testing, which puts it through the ringer by vibrating at a punishing 90 G’s sinusoidal in each direction. This particular piece of equipment is pricey to rent time on.

“It’s very expensive, and it costs a lot per hour,” Nachtmann explains. Jackson Edwards, an Applications Engineer at Farasis, jumps in – “Four hundred and fifty dollars.”

Nachtmann continues, “ When you’re doing a custom-shaped box, at least one hour is just spent bolting it onto the table in a secure fashion.”

This is where their Gigabot comes in.

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“By printing it, we have a custom box that has the mounting holes already integrated into it – we’re saving a lot of money that way – and we’ve found that printing it was definitely strong enough after we filled the inside with an epoxy body compound,” Nachtmann says. “It saved a significant amount compared to having it machined out of aluminum.”

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This machining process was their only option prior to getting a 3D printer. Edwards recounts the process of shopping around for the most affordable option. “We were quoted between two and five thousand dollars for the piece of aluminum, and it also had a 2 week lead time,” he recalls. “Having the ability to make these fixtures in-house is a huge help.”

Contrast this with what it costs them to make the 3D printed version, an extremely dense, 100% infill piece, and it’s a no-brainer. The printed piece uses about five pounds of filament, bringing their cost of printing a custom box to just under $100. On top of that, there’s no lead time: it’s something they can do in-house as needed.

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The Product in Action

One of Farasis’s battery packs’ big applications right now is electric motorcycles.

“We just recently completed a build for Brammo’s Isle of Man motorcycle,” says Edwards. “The bikes performed flawlessly and everything went great.”

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Another notable name on their customer list is Zero, known for their high-performance electric motorcycles.

“They are right in the middle of their build year right now, making 17 bikes a day,” Edwards explains. “Going to a production-level status with them is pretty fun.”

Zero’s bikes use somewhere between 56 and 140 of Farasis’s battery cells, and the Farasis team has also made some 3D printed test fixtures and parts for their validation builds.

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As a true sign of someone in love with their work, Jackson proceeds to wheel out a Zero bike of his own from the back of the office.

“I commute from the Santa Cruz area,” he explains. “I used to commute from Aptos, which was 67 miles one-way…but now I’m a little closer and it’s only a 50 mile trip.”

He explains that the bike has a range that would allow it to do the entire round-trip on one charge, but as he puts it, “it’s nice to have a little bit of headroom.” He opts to plug in at the office while he works.

I get my motorcycle-fantasy fix vicariously, so I leave with the question: how fast does this thing go?

“The fastest I’ve had this one is 105,” Jackson reveals. “It’s a heck of a lot of fun.”

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Reconstructing Aircraft Using 3D Printing

 Taking Flight with an Idea

“I thought about this for about a year and a half before I finally pulled the trigger.”

Ben Gimbert was an airplane mechanic for 32 years before he got a Gigabot and jumped into his next career foray.

“I went to a government boneyard out in Arizona where they have whole decommissioned airplanes; I wanted to collect ejection seats and flight sticks. That’s how this whole thing got started.”

The particular site that Ben went to is AMARG, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. It’s an incredible space to look at photos of – rows upon rows of neatly arranged airplanes that look like toys organized by an obsessive-compulsive child. The facility typically has around 4,200 aircraft onsite at a time.

“They’ve got airplanes, helicopters, missiles… Once the planes are deemed for destruction, they’re sent to the smelter across the street,” Ben explains. “It’s kind of like watching your favorite sports car get chewed up.”

Ben isn’t the only one who feels this way. There are groups of aviation fanatics who snag portions of planes – or entire aircraft – before they meet their fiery demise. And this is where Ben saw his opportunity.

 

Giving Wings to a New Career Path

“There’s a gentleman up in Rochester, New York who has an Egress cockpit simulator, primarily used to train pilots how to eject from an F-4. His was the worst of the worst – it had stuff pulled out and cut off of it. He was missing some key parts for the ejection seats in the cockpit.”

Ben explained that this gentleman’s options for the reparations were limited. “Ejection seats from that era had analog mechanical timers on them; they’re more complicated. There were timers and brackets that he didn’t have on his seat.”

The only option was to find another complete seat from which he could pull parts, something that was going to be difficult and costly – “in the thousands of dollars” – for just a handful of parts.

Ben just so happened to have one of these seats, so, using his as a reference, he modeled all the necessary parts in CAD and started printing them out on his Gigabot.

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The ejection seat Ben reproduced parts from

“I double checked the fit on my seats and sent the parts over to him,” Ben recounted. “He was just tickled to death that this machine could make parts like this.”

Ben continues to use his Gigabot to help out fellow aircraft enthusiasts recreate cockpits, printing parts for ejection seats, gun sights, and static scopes.

F-4 Phantom cockpit which includes a scope Ben reproduced

It’s a whole niche market, he explains. “There are people who have cockpits they use for photoshoots. They have the flight suits and helmets, and at air shows they’ll dress you up and take a photo of you in the cockpit.”

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Ben’s F-4 Thunderbird cockpit photo setup at an airshow
His Gigabot also fuels his own hobby – Ben has an F-86 Sabre for which he is making parts.

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Ben’s F-86 Sabre

Large-Scale 3D Printing for a Niche Market

Ben had originally placed an order for a smaller, desktop 3D printer before changing course for Gigabot.

“Most of the other printers were just too small for what I wanted to do without having to stitch stuff together. They were too small and too expensive for what they are, in my opinion,” Ben explains

“I didn’t want to be making trinkets. What I like about the Gigabot is it’s big,” he says. “I guess everything’s bigger in Texas.”

And for what Ben was looking to do, there really wasn’t another option – it was either 3D print the parts or fashion them by hand, something he hardly even considered as an option.

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F-4D Gunsight/Radar Scope

“If I had to hand-make one of these parts, it would just be way too many hours,” he explains. “It would be so tedious for an amount of money that wouldn’t make it worth it.”

Ben picked up CAD just so he could design these custom parts and print them out. “They’re not objects you’re going to find on Thingiverse,” he says. And despite the learning curve of CAD and 3D printing, it was still a no-brainer for him.

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A gas initiator Ben fashioned in CAD for a client that could not find an original unit. On the right is the original, and on the left is the one printed by Gigabot
“You’re saving a good half on time and money using Gigabot rather than doing this by hand.” He takes a deep inhale and sighs, “If I had to make one every time by hand, I probably wouldn’t even make two of ‘em. I mean seriously.”

As for how Ben feels about his new entrepreneurial path in life, “I just found a need and figured out how to solve it,” he explains. “This has happened to me before: I get an idea, and before I can act on it, someone else is doing it. And they’re the one making money on it and you’re not.”

His next challenge? Expanding the niche, he says. “I want this Gigabot running around the clock.”

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Made in America: 3D Printing Prototypes for Stump Armour Molds

Meet Travis: A Texan, father, entrepreneur, warrior, and inventor.

re:3D first met Travis in Austin last winter as he was prototyping his second version of Stump Armour: an affordable, accessible device he pioneered in order to expand mobility options for bilateral amputees.

As a combat-wounded Marine, Travis is uniquely qualified to inspire solutions to increase maneuverability for other double amputees while reducing back strain that traditional prosthetics can create. By using himself as the test subject and leveraging business insights he acquired in the 100 Entrepreneurs Project and the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV), Travis launched Stump Armour on indiegogo this week.

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Stump Armour Mod 1


About Stump Armour

Stump Armour is a round design that connects to traditional sockets to allow for constant surface contact from any angle. Pressure can be directly applied to a terrain without changing position, allowing amputees to roll themselves up independently when preforming activities close to the ground.  Since the round shape can grab from nearly any position, it works great on uneven/irregular surfaces, so the amputee doesn’t need to focus as much concentration on limb placement when compared to other devices.  Travis doesn’t feel Stump Armour is intended to replace full leg or knee prosthetics. Rather, it’s meant to increase functionality with specific tasks.

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Keeping Costs Low 

A key tenant of the Stump Armor’s mission is to make devices as affordable as possible worldwide. For this reason, Travis contracted Mike Battaglia & I last January to see if we could 3D print his vision for a Stump Armour’s Modification. Using Simplify3D we were able to generate a raft & support that could easily break off. The completed PLA prototypes printed great and we were excited to give them to Travis, who planned to use the prints to create a mold to scale Stump Armor globally.

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3D printed Stump Armour Mods 3 (left) and Mod 4 (right) cast at SureCast

Prints in hand, Travis partnered with local foundries who guided him through the process of making his own custom mold to cast multiple sets of Stump Armour.  This week we interviewed Travis to learn more about the process he used to create a mold from a print by working with Stevens Art. Below are the steps that he described:

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  • From a 3d printed prototype made on Gigabot, a silicone rubber mold was created.
  • The print was covered in an releasing agent that was then covered in silicone, leaving an inlet for wax to be poured in later.
  • After the silicone cured, a 2 piece plaster shell was made.
  • Once completed, the silicone was carefully cut with a razor along where the plaster shells come together so it would come apart into 2 pieces.

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  • The shells were clamped together and hot wax was then poured into the inlet.
  • When the wax hardened, the wax casting of the original print was removed.

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  • The wax cast was then dipped in a a ceramic slurry and power coat until a hard shell formed.
  • This shell was fired in an oven to harden the cast melt the wax out.
  • Metal was poured in and the ceramic shell was broken off after it cooled.
  • A metal replica of the original 3d print was then ready for finishing!
Stump Armour Mod 2

Using lost wax casting, Travis was able to do his first production run of Stump Armour, which is now available to other amputees on the Stump Armour indiegogo campaign. You can support Stump Armour’s next production run and Stump Armour donations at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stump-armour#/  until July 1st.

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Want to learn more?
  • Email: info@stumparmour.com
  • Web: http://www.stumparmour.com/
  • YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsObkfi6W6x2B6dpZ89_CGg/videos?sort=dd&view=0&shelf_id=0
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Greens-Machines-LLC-716439551739895/
  • Google: https://plus.google.com/u/2/b/106145756742784523319/106145756742784523319/posts
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10602419trk=tyah&trkInfo=clickedVertical%3Acompany%2CclickedEntityId%3A10602419%2Cidx%3A2-1-2%2CtarId%3A1464716547152%2Ctas%3Agreens%20machines

 

Made in America: Rapid Prototyping with “GiggleBot”

Below is a re-post of a blog women-owned small business Acoustics First wrote about their Gigabot experiences in Virginia. More information about Acoustics First is available on their website. We’re also honored to feature them on the stories tab of our website. The original post can be accessed here. 

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As the summer of 2015 winds down, we here at Acoustics First thought we’d share our latest acquisition with our readers.

The GigaBot™ by re:3D. Or as we call it "The GiggleBot!"

The GigaBot™ by re:3D. Or as we call it “The GiggleBot!”

Meet the Gigabot™ (or as we call him “Gigglebot”).

This amazing large format 3D printer was developed by re:3D, an outstanding company whose principals come from varied backgrounds which include experience working at NASA, among other things.
The eight cubic foot build volume of this beast makes it ideal for the rapid development and prototyping of our industry leading sound diffusers! We look forward to using this wonderful device on many projects in the years to come.
Watch this short video we made during one of our trial runs. For this calibration test we chose to print a scaled down version of our patented Model D Art Diffusor®.

Who said manufacturing was boring?!?!

~Acoustics First

info@acousticsfirst.com

Gigabot Shapes Sound at Acoustics First

Acoustics First in Richmond, Virginia, USA

Acoustic Diffusers scatter sound and break up hard, contiguous reflections, allowing the sound energy to spread evenly throughout the space without interfering with the sound being produced.  They are used in many different environments: recording studios, audio mixing spaces, loudspeaker demonstration spaces, high-end home theaters, school concert and rehearsal spaces, churches, music venues, and some of the most renowned listening spaces in the world, which have stringent demands on their acoustic environments.  Our diffusers have been used in all of these and more.

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We have created a streamlined approach to developing diffusers: we have a virtual design and development process which includes the virtual modeling and testing to determine if it’s meeting our specifications.  However, it is invaluable to have a full-scale printed prototype in hand – allowing for real-world evaluation.  This is where the Gigabot comes into play.  It allows us to have designs in our hand at full scale, to verify our virtual development data under real-world observable and testable conditions.  With live prototypes in hand, we can measure the sound direction and intensity being reflected off the surfaces, which tells us if our development processes were successful, even before we go to production.

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We are firm believers in the efficacy of rapid prototyping, and it integrates well in our model of virtualized design, testing, and geometry optimization before manufacturing.

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Our Gigabot has allowed us to reach out further and work on designs that may have been too complicated to realize in any other way, as well as saved us time and money in the design process.

This process has helped the industry immensely, as we can easily prototype and test designs that would have been impractical — if not impossible — to create any other way. This allows for real innovation and process evaluation, which then evolves into designs we can offer to customers worldwide.

-Jim DeGrandis, Acoustics First

Bronze, Full-Scale Dinosaurs using 3D Printed Lost-PLA Casts

Deep in the Heart Foundry in Bastrop, Texas, USA

On Gigabot, we’re currently working on 16 dinosaurs – some up to 40 feet long. We’re directly going from printing finished panels to casting. 3D printing eliminates a lot of steps in the bronze casting process.  Normally the piece is sculpted at full scale, molded, and then cast through the lost wax casting process.

I’ve got our Gigabot running 24 hours a day now. When you’re a small business like us, spending $150k on a high-end 3D printer is a very hard decision to make.  For us, Gigabot was reasonable, we could afford to buy it, and in our situation, it’s putting out the quality level that we need.