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Demonstrator platforms target 3D printing technology for manufacturing

Stratasys introduces new 3D printing technology demonstrators designed to bolster parts manufacturing for automotive and aerospace; IQMS unveils data backup to Oracle Cloud.

Increasingly, manufacturers are turning to 3D printing technology to improve efficiency of parts manufacturing, but significant barriers to widespread adoption remain.

To help break down some of these barriers and make 3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) a viable and even critical part of manufacturing, particularly for the aerospace and automotive industries, 3D printing technology heavyweight Stratasys has unveiled  two new demonstrator platforms.

Stratasys is a pioneer in 3D printing technology as the original developer of fused deposition modeling (FDM), one of the most commonly used 3D printing technologies in manufacturing, according to Scott Sevcik, Stratasys director of manufacturing platform development.

"There are some unique features in FDM technology that make it very strong for manufacturing," Sevcik said. "It uses engineering thermoplastic materials that are the same materials that are injection molded and machine-used in many other manufacturing processes. They are strong and durable materials and as a result FDM has found more of a place in manufacturing than many other additive manufacturing technologies."

Sevcik said that FDM has been adopted by manufacturing for purposes that go beyond creating functional prototypes. FDM is now being used by manufacturers to create manufacturing aids, jigs, fixtures, and tools from thermoplastic materials that are lighter weight and more flexible but as strong as traditional heavy-metal materials. These lighter-weight fixtures are safer and easier to move around the shop floor and tools can be created for specific jobs or even specific operators; for example, a left-handed tool for a left-handed operator. All of this results in savings because the manufacturing process is more efficient and safer, he said.

These tools and manufacturing aids have had benefits for the manufacturing process, such as lowered costs, but now actual 3D printed parts are making their way into high-end autos and aircraft, Sevcik said. Customer demand is driving the impetus toward 3D printed production parts that are lightweight but just as strong and durable as traditionally manufactured parts. However, there are barriers to more widespread adoption that Stratasys hopes to address with the two new demonstrator platforms.

The first, Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator, addresses the issue that usual 3D printers are limited in the size of the parts they can produce because they build up from a table platform to a ceiling. The Infinite-Build demonstrator turns this on its side and builds the parts horizontally, so it could theoretically build infinitely if space allows, Sevcik said. This can lead to building very large production parts for the aerospace, automotive and other industries, as well as building parts with greater quality and consistency, which is a critical need before the 3D printed parts are accepted widely. This is because the extrusion process of the sideways printing is faster and more controlled than other 3D printing technology that build layers over longer time periods, he said.

Stratasys has partnered with Boeing to produce such parts as interior aircraft panels and has partnered with Ford to explore automotive applications, according to Sevcik.

The second demonstrator platform, Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, uses robotic arms and essentially turns the FDM process inside out and allows greater freedom in part design and in the strength of composite materials to build parts. Rather than building in an enclosed space with a single dimension, the Robotic Composite demonstrator uses a six-axis robotic arm and a two-axis rotary positioner cable to print a part from the inside out rather than the traditional layer-by-layer model, Sevcik said.

The benefit of using eight degrees of area to build from is that you can precisely manage the strength of the composite materials that make up the part and have much greater freedom in the part's design, he said. The multi-directionality also means that parts can be built faster because the process is not constrained by the stop-and-start layering of traditional methods. 

"These demonstrators show the industry where additive manufacturing can make an impact in manufacturing," Sevcik said. "They show that these are up and running and are not fantasies, and that we have close partnerships with Boeing and Ford that are helping to guide what a final product based on these advanced technologies looks like."

IQMS debuts cloud data backup

Manufacturing ERP software vendor IQMS wants to bolster its customers' data security with the release of IQMS for Oracle Cloud Backup.

IQMS software combines ERP and manufacturing execution system (MES) functions where all the data is managed in the same Oracle database. The new IQMS for Oracle Cloud Backup allows customers to automatically back up IQMS system data to the Oracle Cloud, according to the company. This eliminates manual data backups and provides secure offsite data storage.

The cloud backup service is available for on-premises and cloud-hosted IQMS systems and customers pay a monthly service fee with no upfront cost.

"Our manufacturing ERP customers all have one thing in common: the need to preserve and protect the data that drives their operations and decision making," said Gary Nemmers, IQMS CEO, in a press release. "With the introduction of IQMS for Oracle Cloud Backup, we are putting data backup within the reach of all our customers, giving them more confidence that their critical business information can be secure and always there when they need it."

The IQMS for Oracle Cloud Backup protects data on a remote facility, which is an advantage over on-premises systems at manufacturing facilities that can be affected by technology failures or natural disasters. Software agents can automatically transfer data from the IQMS system to the Oracle Cloud storage, and the data can be easily restored if a system failure occurs. 

There are several more benefits to backing up to the Oracle Cloud, according to IQMS:

  • Storage automatically scales as the manufacturer's data requirements change.
  • Data is encrypted before and during the transmission to Oracle Cloud, providing security controls throughout the process.
  • Data is replicated multiple times for redundancy in the cloud storage environment.

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