ORLANDO, FLA. (April 5, 6:15 p.m. ET) — Whether it's a life-size statue of Thomas Jefferson for the Smithsonian or a battery holder for a Marine's flashlight, RedEye on Demand has developed its digital manufacturing process to get parts out quickly.
“We're a product-development solution provider for our customers,” business development manager Jeff Hanson said in an interview at NPE2012, held April 1-5 in Orlando.
He said RedEye can be used at the start of product development and even for low-volume runs so that changes can be made prior to full-volume production.
The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based direct digital manufacturing company is a business unit of Stratasys Inc., and recently added cast urethane molding to its services.
RedEye was developed as a way to sell parts to Stratasys customers but it evolved into much more and proved to be a profitable business, Hanson said.
The Jefferson statue is at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibit titled “Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” which runs through Oct. 14 in Washington. The project took about 2½ weeks, as compared to a normal several-month estimate for a traditional bronze statue. Once assembled, it was treated with primer, paint and wax to give it a realistic bronzed patina.
The company said that it used 3-D laser scans of an already-existing statue created by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based StudioEIS that resides at Jefferson's home in Monticello near Charlottesville, Va. The data was sent as a digital model and the statue was produced in four parts using Stratasys' patented fused deposition modeling technology. It was made from production-grade thermoplastics.
“We are expanding the reach of our services beyond traditional design firms and product development, and our work demonstrates our ability to offer customized parts and products for unique, one-off applications in an affordable way,” Richard Garrity, vice president of RedEye on Demand, said in a news release.
Another example of the company's nimbleness, Hanson said, was in 2004 when U.S. troops were fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. An undisclosed customer needed a battery holder to finish production of a Marine flashlight, but found that it would take a supplier about 12 weeks to deliver the goods. Hanson suggested rapid prototyping; the customer was skeptical.
“I said, ‘If you send us a purchase order for 100, I will send you one tomorrow,' ” he said.
RedEye used a layered manufacturing process and when the customer saw it, he called and said they had forgotten to put a flange in the design.
“So, I said, ‘Send us a new file and we'll do another,' ” Hanson said. He noted that if tooling had been created, the change would have stalled the project.
“We eliminated the need for tooling, did 100 and shipped it out. The orders started coming in 100s and we were able to get the parts out, and they started assembly right away to meet their commitment,” said Hanson.
He said customers have the wrong impression of rapid prototyping, which can be used to make low-volume numbers of parts. Thus, tooling and a switch to injection molding or another process is not necessary, unless the project is ready for higher volumes. It can be used with a variety of resins, such as ABS, polycarbonate, ABS/PC and others.
“We can mitigate risk, cost and time restraints,” he added.
RedEye on Demand was launched in 2005 and has created a global digital factory worldwide. Besides Minnesota, it has factories in Melbourne, Australia; Istanbul; São Paulo; and Leuven, Belgium.
What's unique about the company, according to Hanson, is that it can share data worldwide with its internet communications technology, and through its online search engine the firm can provide quick quotes once all of the data, such as volume, material and surface, are entered.
The system allows the company to determine capacity at any factory, maintain consistency worldwide and provide quick turnaround.
Garrity said that pressure from the medical, automotive and heavy-machinery industries to decrease time and costs for bringing a product to market, encouraged RedEye to come out with the low-volume cast urethane molding. It provides a bridge between rapid prototyping and injection molding, combining the durability of a FDM additive-manufactured part with the surface finish of a traditional manufactured part.
Parent company Stratasys, headquarterd in Minneapolis, is a maker of additive-manufacturing machines for prototyping and producing plastic parts. It markets under the brands uPrint and Dimension 3D Printers and Fortus Production 3D Printers.