Proto Labs, a producer of custom prototypes and low-volume production parts, has added additive manufacturing to its portfolio of services on offer from its Telford, UK facility.
The company has expanded its production facility with the recent addition of stereolithography (SL), an advanced additive manufacturing service for custom prototyping.
Together with Proto Labs’ CNC machining and injection moulding services, the company says it is now “truly able” to help designers and engineers take a product from the initial stages of prototyping through to low-volume production.
Lee Ball, Proto Labs’ Operations Director, commented: “We are excited to be able to offer this new additive manufacturing service to our customers in Europe.”
“When compared to the commonly available fused deposition modelling (FDM) processes that are popular with hobbyists, SL offers a vastly improved level of resolution, accuracy and surface finish. SL can build parts with a layer thickness of 25 microns (0.0250mm) compared to the typical, entry-level FDM layer thickness of around 127 microns (0.127mm).”
The SL process uses an ultraviolet laser to draw on the surface of a liquid thermoset resin. Where it draws, the liquid turns to solid. This is repeated in thin, two-dimensional cross-sectional layers to form complex three-dimensional parts that Proto Labs says is “far more accurate” than many other types of additive manufacturing processes currently available.
The company’s additive manufacturing service can produce parts in sizes up to 736mm by 635mm by 533mm, using a selection of thermoplastic-like materials that mimic ABS and polypropylene.
“Fast-moving businesses demand expertise, scalability and a quick turnaround of products to stay ahead of the competition. Professional additive manufacturing will allow companies to accelerate product development and turn ideas into real products in a matter of days,” added Ball.
Proto Labs’ says its stereolithography process offers high accuracy and a smooth surface finish on parts. It works well for prototyping very small parts and complex geometries during the earliest stages of a component’s development.
The company is also planning to introduce selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) processes in 2016, with both technologies already having been successfully established in Proto Lab’s US locations.