Sep 25, 2016 | By Benedict

Swimwear giant Speedo is using a Stratasys Objet Connex 350 3D printer to cut design iteration times at its “Aqualab” R&D center in Nottingham, England. The 3D printer is being used for the rapid prototyping of hard goods.

Speedo may have ditched U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte after his Rio Olympics scandal, but the British swimwear manufacturer already has a new hero: an Objet Connex 350 3D printer. For the last five years, Speedo has been using the triple-jetting printer at its Nottingham R&D center in order to prototype swimming goods while reducing iteration time. Even during times of bathroom door smashing, the 3D printer has continued to expand design and development freedom for the swimwear company’s R&D team, making it one of the company’s most valuable team members.

The Speedo “Aqualab” has developed a reputation for being one of the most well-guarded areas of sports science research in the business. Behind its locked doors, Speedo experts embark upon research and development cycles which can last up to ten years. The facility, located in Nottingham, England, has wet and dry labs for material testing, 3D scanners, a sampling facility, and creative spaces where staff develop ideas and insights.

In 2010, the Aqualab was given a huge productivity boost when Speedo invested in a 3D printer. “I remember once the decision was made and the purchase went through the whole team undertook some training,” recalled Chris Johnson, Design Manager for hard goods at the Aqualab. “The reps from Stratasys came in and they took us through and trained us on the maintenance aspects and then they also helped us and support us with the way we work, our current process with the 3D CAD, and how we then translate it on to the machine to get the best outputs.”

Speedo’s Connex 350 3D printer is able to jet multiple thermoplastic models simultaneously, enabling users to create 3D printed parts consisting of multiple materials and material properties in a single print. The 3D printer can even create composite materials on the fly, letting users design such materials with preset combinations of mechanical properties. Speedo’s 3D printer is used almost daily, with build times for a set of goggles usually around 3-7 hours. The efficient system allows Speedo staff to design a virtual CAD model in the morning and have it in the pool by the afternoon. Most are built in an upright position, allowing several pairs to be printed simultaneously.

For its production goggles, Speedo uses silicones and TPRs (thermoplastic rubbers), which the Objet Connex is able to replicate with its PolyJet Matrix Technology. A user can create a range of Digital Materials with specific ‘Shore A’ hardness values to match the values of the intended production materials, so that the 3D printed prototypes are as close to the final product as possible.

“By bringing the 3D printer, a Connex350 machine, we were able to print rapid prototypes in flexible materials: the Veroclear, which would simulate a polycarbonate lens that you could view through, [and] the TangoBlackPlus, which would then simulate a silicone goggle gasket,” Johnson explained. “Straight away we could print a prototype of a goggle in a day, clean it up, take it down to the pool, swim in it, and understand what’s happening with the vision.”

The 3D printed goggle prototypes enable the Aqualab team to determine a design’s comfort, fit, and watertightness. Based on immediate testing, the researchers are then able to make quick amendments to a design before creating further iterations. With handmade samples taking up to five weeks to create, the much faster 3D printing process enables the R&D team to make a far greater amount of progress during its allocated development time. Before the 3D printer was introduced, the Aqualab was often extremely rushed for time if a sample came back with defects.

According to Speedo, the Objet Connex 3D printer has made a big splash at the Aqualab, and will continue to do so as long as the company designs hard products. “It allows us to have a better quality design development process so we can create the design, take it into 3D CAD, [and] then simulate with FEA and CFD to understand how it should and might perform,” Johnson added. “What it allows us to do is de-risk, so by doing these additional iterations you end up with a better product. It’s opened up new avenues [and] new opportunities, because once you have the machine it’s at the heart of the process really.”


Source: [sys]


Posted in 3D Printing Application



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