San Diego Business Journal

Making its Mark

PRODUCTION: Process of 3-D Printing Can Cut Costs, Deliver Quickly By Mike Allen Monday, August 20, 2012
Donovan Weber, co-owner of Forecast3D, a Carlsbad-based company which has been involved in the 3-D printing revolution since 1994, makes prototypes and production ready objects using additive manufacturing technologies. McGowan says that in the past 18 years, this process has become the default method for making things because it provides an easier way to make changes even after the product is in the market.

Donovan Weber, co-owner of Forecast3D, a Carlsbad-based company which has been involved in the 3-D printing revolution since 1994, makes prototypes and production ready objects using additive manufacturing technologies. McGowan says that in the past 18 years, this process has become the default method for making things because it provides an easier way to make changes even after the product is in the market.

Michael Armbruster was recently manufacturing novelty drink straws for a customer who’s considering getting them on the shelves for the holidays.

That isn’t remarkable except for the way the straws, shaped as stars and Christmas trees, were being made: on Armbruster’s three-dimensional printer.

Three dimensional printing, also called additive manufacturing or stereolithography, has been around since the 1980s, but it’s only been in recent years that the technology has improved to the point where it’s becoming more used as a way of developing new products.

“One day you’re making medical instruments, the next an auto part, and the next, straws,” says Armbruster, who runs his business, HD Rapid Prototypes from his Kearny Mesa garage.

Armbruster got the 3-D images for the straws on an email the client sent, programmed the data into his Objet printer, and pressed a button that activated print heads to lay down acrylic based resin in razor thin amounts. Then the layers were efficiently cured by lasers following the material application.

Each of the layers of resin laid down by the printer was only a thousandth of an inch so the process took exactly two hours and 19 minutes. When the process ended, Armbruster had the prototype straws for his client, who would drive over the next day and pick them up.

Top Secret Projects

The straw project was much simpler than some things that Armbruster has been contracted to make. Some are so hush-hush, he’s been required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

photo

Photo courtesy of Forecast3D

The prototype chair is an SLA scale model of a chair by Tyler Haggstrom of Otis College of Art & Design.

Customers using the service come from such disparate industries as aerospace, medical devices, and entertainment (props for Hollywood movies) but mostly from consumer products and electronics.

“It was definitely a novelty at first,” says Donovan Weber, co-owner of Forecast 3D, a Carlsbad-based business founded in 1994 that makes prototypes and production-ready objects. “In the past 18 years it’s become the default method of making things.”

A large part of Forecast 3D’s business comes from the biotechnology and biomedical device industries, Weber says. These companies are developing new types of diagnostic tools related to treating various diseases and need a prototype to examine so scientists and designers can better understand how the product functions, Weber said.

Using his company’s printers, a customer could get about 20 replicas of the same prototype. The forms would be distributed to the engineering team, marketing team, sales team, and executives. Upon closer examination, the company might tweak the design several times before settling on the final design.

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