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The Viper: an advanced, flexible, high-capacity stereolithography manufacturing system

The Viper: an advanced, flexible, high-capacity stereolithography manufacturing system
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October 16, 2005 When English physicist, futurist and science fiction master Arthur C. Clarke wrote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (in “Profiles of the Future”,1961), he may well have been describing the type of rapid 3-D printing, prototyping and manufacturing solutions available today. We’ve already written about Renault F1’s use of a Sinterstation in developing parts for its 2005 cars, InVision’s HR 3-D Printer and the array of 3-D printing solutions from Z Corporation but we can't help but be enthused about the ability to design a three dimensional part and manifest it from thin air. All of these systems reduce the time and cost of designing products and facilitate direct and indirect manufacturing by creating actual parts directly from digital input. These solutions are used for design communication and prototyping as well as for production of functional end-use parts. A new 3-D machine that caught our eye during the week is the Viper Pro SLA from 3D Systems.

The Viper is an advanced, flexible, high-capacity Stereolithography (SLA) manufacturing system available in three configurations, including a "dual vat" configuration, which enables customers to build parts from different materials simultaneously, and a single extra-large vat configuration, which enables customers to build parts as large as 1.5 meters long. The company expects to begin shipments of the Viper Pro SLA system later this year and make the extra-large vat available during the first quarter of 2006.

The new Viper Pro SLA system enables customers to mass customise and produce high-quality, end-use parts, patterns, wind tunnel models, fixtures and tools consistently and economically. Designed for lights-out, 24/7 operation, the Viper Pro system facilitates maximum capacity utilization and superior part production quality. This state-of-the-art system is loaded with new features designed to enhance functionality and improve up time such as a self leveling recoating system, quick material change, remote machine operation capability, automatic platform changer, web camera and software that monitors and records part production data.

To enable uninterrupted production of consistent quality parts and fast material changeovers, the Viper Pro SLA system features a new and innovative Resin Delivery Module (RDM) designed for use with 3D Systems' Accura material.

Each RDM is an integrated portable material delivery system that contains a resin management system. Equipped with proprietary self-aligning and self-leveling blade, the removable RDM system automatically adapts and adjusts for changes in operating conditions. The newly developed resin management system automatically detects and cross checks for proper resin type in the system. Built-in quality management features extend the useful life of material by filtering and re-circulating material, thus creating consistent operating conditions during build and idle cycles. The new management system also tracks and reports material yield, as well as volume calculations, notifying the user when to replenish the material.

Maximum capacity utilization and flexibility is provided through modular user-configurable RDM deployment providing for several different build capacity configurations. The Viper Pro SLA system can be configured to support either one RDM (available in several sizes, including 650mm x 750mm), dual RDMs at the same time or one single extra-large RDM (1,500mm x 750mm) for the production of parts. In a dual RDM configuration maximum utilization of the laser system is implemented by scanning on one RDM while the other is recoating. This greatly improves the efficiency of the system and significantly lowers the cost per part. The innovative and modular RDM design and portability also enables rapid material-type changes, providing customers the ability to manufacture parts from multiple materials quickly and efficiently. Additionally, the dual RDM configuration provides the user with materials choice flexibility, enabling the user to build parts from different materials simultaneously.

"Nearly 20 years after the introduction of the very first stereolithography system, we are enormously pleased to introduce the Viper Pro SLA system, a quantum leap in SLA technology," said Abe Reichental, 3D Systems' president and chief executive officer.

"The Viper Pro SLA system reflects our ongoing and relentless commitment to listening to our customers and to capturing and translating their everyday needs into specific enhancements and features that are designed to improve their operations and in turn their bottom line. Working closely with lead users in a variety of industries, we captured several key themes. Our customers are looking for the ability to build larger parts more accurately, with better surface finish and faster. This results in better asset utilization and lowers the production cost of building and finishing parts, all of which helps our customer's bottom line," continued Reichental.

"Now, with several available self-contained and portable RDM configurations to choose from, our customers can optimize their capacity requirements economically and efficiently. What's more, the single RDM alone offers nearly double the build area of the largest stereolithography system offering from 3D Systems today while the extra-large RDM represents the largest build envelope available on the market. Not only is the build area larger but recent advances in our proprietary optics and scanning technology enabled significant improvements in surface finish. Now even with large parts production our customers can achieve nearly the same surface finish quality available on our standard Viper SLA system in high-resolution mode. The Viper Pro build speed is not compromised with the high quality resolution and is comparable to the build speed of a SLA 7000 system.

"To further enhance performance of the Viper Pro SLA system and to increase our customers' utilization of the system's capacity, we developed an integrated, intelligent and flexible accessories package. A new intelligent materials cartridge facilitates automatic replenishment of material to the system through the RDM. The new Resin Delivery Module provides the user with a comprehensive and integrated material quality and yield management system.

"The new resin management system is ideal for users that require a flexible manufacturing system with quick material-type change-over capability and built-in material usage tracking and reporting.

"The Viper Pro SLA system is equipped with a series of intelligent detection and feedback controls including sensors and cameras which enable real-time monitoring and automated system corrections facilitating lights-out operation and remote machine operation. A new automatic platform changer has been developed that enables a finished part to be automatically removed from the machine and a new platform inserted to start a new build. This feature, popular with production CNC machines (known as a 'pallet changer'), is now available on a stereolithography system increasing the utilization of this valuable asset.

"We are very proud to deliver this advanced SLA manufacturing system within a few months after the introduction of the Sinterstation Pro SLS system, our very first SLS manufacturing system. This is another significant building block in our comprehensive strategy to advance the state of rapid manufacturing by providing new and innovative alternatives to today's traditional manufacturing methods," concluded Reichental.

See the Viper Pro SLA system at EuroMold

3D Systems plans to display its suite of newly introduced products, including the Viper Pro SLA system, as well as its entire range of system solutions at EuroMold from November 30 to December 3, 2005, at Frankfurt Exhibition Centre (Germany).

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