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Carbon’s CLIP 3D Printing Enables Production of 3D Molecular Designs for Education

Using Carbon ultra fast CLIP 3D printing system, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) enables its 50 member entities to share access to the school’s investments in the latest additive technologies and benefit from the Additive Center’s expertise in prototyping and production.

A small college in Wisconsin isn’t necessarily where you would expect to find a state-of-the-art lab that creates 3D printed instructional kits for the biosciences, but that’s precisely the mission of the Rapid Prototyping Center (the Additive Center). Member support defrays capital equipment costs, which in turn benefits MSOE’s engineering students who use the additive lab for design projects.

Embracing additive’s potential to deliver final parts that are as durable and cost effective as traditional manufacturing processes, MSOE’s consortium members put new technologies to the test in low volume production. In its latest partnership with member company, 3D Molecular Designs (3DMD), MSOE’s Center used Carbon’s CLIP technology to print molecular model kits that bring the sciences to life in high school and university classrooms. Several of the parts in the molecular kit were simple enough to be injection molded, but two of the parts use a ball-and-stem snap fit connection, which are more geometrically complex and expensive to produce using injection molding.

Before MSOE’s Center introduced 3DMD to Carbon’s CLIP technology, the company’s concerns around the porosity and weakness of an SLS nylon printed prototype sent them on a search for a material that would look and function like an injection molded part. Their search ended when they found Carbon’s RPU material. “One of the key features for this part was the ability to be snapped and unsnapped by our users many times,” as Vince Anewenter, Manager of MSOE’s Additive Center says, “We initially printed a nylon prototype, but the snap-fit was too tight in the beginning, and as it wore in, it became sloppy and loose.” Nylon, he explained, has a nice matte surface finish, but because it’s porous, the part got dirty looking very quickly with all of the handling by students and teachers in the classroom. “That’s what made me think of Carbon: surface finish second-to-none, durability and performance.”

Further, the consistency of parts across builds makes CLIP ideal for production. “We didn’t see any discernible differences across the builds and there’s no real discernible scrap rate,” Anewenter notes.  For the production of consistently high quality parts that withstood the test of tinkering by hundreds of students, CLIP provided a solution that no other manufacturing process was able to deliver. As the Additive Center iterates on the production process, they’ve found ways to be more operationally efficient.

“The students developed a process that they ramped up pretty quickly. We now batch the parts to get 4, 5, or 6 builds in one day, with 28 parts per build. Each build takes 45 minutes. We then cure all of the parts in the oven overnight, and in the morning, we sand the bottom supports off.” – Anewenter

Not only is the CLIP production process extremely efficient, but the economics of low volume production with CLIP are also more favorable than injection molding. When the team at 3D Molecular Designs priced the part for injection molding, they realized that at $10,000 for the tool alone, it would be a cost prohibitive part to injection mold – especially given the low volume of production

“Injection molding isn’t economically viable under quantities of 10k and until you know it’s going to be a big seller for you, it’s tough to commit to quantities that make it cost effective – especially when you’re talking about educational training tools. We wanted to test the piece and the market,” Dr. Timothy Herman, founder of 3DMD, explained.

To date, 3D Molecular Designs has printed 500 kits (around 1,000 parts) with CLIP. Given the success of this pilot, the team plans to increase the number of kits in the field, kicking into producing thousands of new parts. With CLIP, classrooms across the country now have access to high quality, economically viable educational tools. By empowering 3DMD’s low volume production capabilities, CLIP is giving small businesses the power to have a giant impact.

To review Carbon’s vision, take a look at the TED talk Joseph DeSimone, CEO of Carbon, gave back in 2015:

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