That additive manufacturing technologies are radically altering the ways in which products are designed and developed should perhaps not be seen as entirely surprising. However, not only are the ways in which this is happening instructive, but so is the fact that the technology is making possible products and designs that simply would never previously have been possible.
Aimed primarily at the consumer market, AirDog is an innovative, yet simple-to-use, 'quad-copter' that operates via a wrist-worn tracking device and accommodates a standard GoPro sports camera. Users can automatically capture exciting live aerial video footage and still photography of themselves, having set distance, speed and height levels for AirDog to follow. Helico is specifically targeting the outdoor 'extreme' sports market and expects AirDog to be of particular interest to recreational participants of freestyle BMX, motocross and skateboarding, as well as water-sports such as surfing, kite-surfing and wake-boarding.
"AirDog not only grants end-users their own affordable and personal aerial video crew, but goes one step further in providing thrilling footage from distances and angles previously inaccessible to such consumers," explains Edgars Rozentals, Co-founder and CEO of the Latvia-based, Helico Aerospace Industries.
Prior to investigating the use of 3D printed parts, Rozentals was trying silicon-molded designs through a supplier in China. However, not only did this entail a two-week turnaround time, but the resulting models proved to be too heavy for take-off and were ultimately scrapped.
"The benefits delivered by 3D printing compared to the method we trialled originally are numerous", says Rozentals. "Above all, turnaround time is significantly reduced and if we need to make last minute changes to a design, we can do so within a matter of hours, easily and cost-effectively. This was simply unachievable before as it necessitated time-consuming production of a costly new mold.
"In fact, I'm not sure how we would have arrived at the stage of having a functional part, were it not for Stratasys 3D printing technology. I founded the company two years ago and we're a staff of three, so for start-ups like Helico, this technology isn't just a game-changer, but the ticket to the game itself," he explains.
According to Rozentals, AirDog might literally have not got off the ground, had it not been for the instrumental role 3D printing played during the prototyping phase. The company sought the expertise of Stratasys' Latvian partner, Baltic3D, who also worked with Polish reseller Bibus Menos to meet the requirements outlined by Helico's team. In order to produce fully-functional parts that could perform in the real environment, both Stratasys' FDM and PolyJet 3D printing technologies were employed for AirDog and its AirLeash tracking device, respectively.
The final AirDog drone was fully 3D printed using Stratasys' FDM-based ULTEM material, chosen thanks to its ability to provide parts of extreme strength and durability, with the lightweight characteristics vital for take-off and in-flight manoeuvrability. "We were particularly impressed by how far we could push the boundaries of the ULTEM material," adds Rozentals. "The material's functional stability enabled us to print very thin walls that further reduced AirDog's overall weight."
Conversely, the accompanying AirLeash was developed using Stratasys' PolyJet multi-material 3D printing technology. 3D printed in a single pass, the wrist-worn device combines rigid and rubber-like materials to produce everything from the robust housing case to the soft buttons on the keypad.
"Airdog is a perfect example of how 3D printing is an enabler for inventors looking to turn their ideas into fully-operational parts quickly and effectively," says Andy Middleton, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Stratasys. "In this case, both our core 3D printing technologies have proved instrumental in producing a fully-functional drone and wrist device. With the exception of the advanced sensor technology, both parts have been created entirely using 3D printing."
A Stratasys 3D printed version of AirDog will preview this month, as Helico executives begin a month-long promotional roadshow in the US to generate interest among end-users within the extreme sports scene. If successful, and pending contractual agreements with relevant manufacturers, Helico expects to commercially introduce AirDog to the market at the end of October, 2014.
Meanwhile in Britain, product design house, Ignitec, has designed and manufactured a new generation of wireless headphones for technology start-up and luxury goods company Audiowings, using its Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D Printer.
Named after the company, Audiowings is a luxury audio headphone that synchronizes directly with online music services, such as Spotify, enabling users to listen to their favourite music on-the-go, without the burden of headphone cables. As well as featuring a built-in storage system, the device also connects wirelessly to the Internet using 3/4G or WiFi, giving users the ability to plug into YouTube and enjoy music from around the world.
In a bid to receive funding, the first fully 3D printed Audiowings prototype was entered into Sir Richard Branson's 'Pitch to Rich' 2014 competition. The company has since been awarded the 'People's Award', receiving a prestigious mentoring program from some of the world's leading business minds. Audiowings is currently finalizing its plans to enter the retail market.
"When we were first approached with the concept of Audiowings and briefed on its prototyping requirements, we instantly knew that 3D printing would be the answer," explains Ben Mazur,
Director of Ignitec. "Our Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D Printer was the obvious choice since it has the ability to produce products on demand that depict the accuracy and surface quality of injection molding."
Stratasys' PolyJet-based 3D printing technology features 16 micron accuracy, producing parts that combine high definition with a smooth surface finish, crucial in the development of high quality prototypes.
"Quality is paramount and is the driving force behind all of our projects," continues Mazur. "We printed the headphones in a durable rigid opaque grey material (VeroGrey), not only enabling us to perfect the look and feel, but also perform ergonomic testing with the user's comfortability- always integral to this development."
Ignitec's move towards Stratasys' PolyJet 3D printing technology aimed to increase the precision of its prototype parts, as well as reduce its prototyping costs and development cycle times. Equipped with a Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D Printer from UK reseller Stanford Marsh Group, the company has since seen a significant reduction in the time required to 3D print and hand-finish its prototypes parts.
"Since introducing Stratasys 3D printing into our work flow, we have cut our finishing time by more than 50% due to the reduction of support material removal required compared to our previous SLA system," explains Mazur. "We have also seen a surge in client interest due to the fact that we can now produce prototype parts with a short turnaround time, while retaining the highest quality and remaining cost effective. Being able to offer end-use parts prior to manufacturing is something which is very valuable to our clients and takes away a lot of risk and guesswork."