Southern California Company Complements Additive Manufacturing with Subtractive and Molding Processes
Dinsmore & Associates has developed and patented FRSLA, an additive process ideally suited for precision medical devices and aerospace parts
Considered more of a novelty than a serious manufacturing process a dozen years ago, additive manufacturing — often called 3D printing — is gaining more momentum every day as a viable, versatile, precision process for a variety of prototyping and manufacturing needs. Since the first additive processes — SLS and SLA — hit the marketplace in the late 1980s, manufacturers have tried to fit the innovative processes into as many industry niches as possible. Additive manufacturing is now reaching a prominent place in a variety of markets, from the hobbyist and small -scale inventors to sophisticated design firms, small OEMs, and gigantic Fortune 500 companies that require critical, precision prototypes and small volume production runs.
One Southern California contract manufacturer is employing the versatile technology to the max with a large variety of 3D processes in-house. Dinsmore & Associates, Inc. (DAI), has been making a name for itself in this unique industry for many years, and now as a diverse service bureau in the expanding industry. The Costa Mesa, Calif. company, located in the heart of Orange County's high-tech sector, has been able to meld the modern and the traditional together into one powerhouse of manufacturing might. In addition to additive manufacturing and low-volume rapid manufacturing, the company offers traditional manufacturing processes that include machining, toolmaking, metal forming, welding, injection molding, RTV mold casting, and part finishing for various industries.
The additive manufacturing industry is populated by service providers offering a range of different capabilities. Dinsmore has made its mark by providing not only additive processes and engineering support, but also processes in the traditional realm. Operating as a single source provider of product design and development, rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing, 3D printing, and rapid tooling services, the company specializes in "working with industrial design firms, original equipment manufacturers, inventors, architects, start-up companies, investors,venture capitalists, and people with ideas," according to its website (www.dinsmoreinc.com).
"If you do a scan of the industry for additive manufacturing service bureaus, you'll find that there is this big transition to instant, instant, now, now," said James Ward, vice president of marketing at Dinsmore & Associates, in a recent phone interview. "While this is a wonderful offering, we've kind of shied away from that. What we believe is that we are such a service-driven company that we want to ensure that before we fire up the machine for a drawing, you've had the chance to talk with one of our professionals to make sure you're really going to get what you want. We have a lot of experience in this industry, so we want to make sure we exceed your expectations. The only way to do that is to have that initial contact."
On-staff Engineers and Designers Complement Advanced Processes
As a bonus for its customers, the company has engineers and designers on staff that can assist a new customer with their concepts. "For some of our more advanced customers, who are used to our process and have been with us for a long time, it is almost a mechanical process," said Ward. "They very quickly send us drawings and we can send prints to them very quickly."
But for the newer customer, or one that's unsure about the process, Dinsmore prefers to have a consultation with them before the process gets started. "We can point out possible issues or concerns about their designs," Ward remarks. "We don't want to fire off a print to them based on what they sent us, and then they realize it's not right. Then they are spending more money. We realize that time and money are an important resource to a company, so we want to make sure that they maximize that."
Dinsmore offers all of the most prominent additive technologies—SLA®, FRSLATM, SLS®, DMLSTM, FDM®, and PolyJetTM—in its modern plant. All of these technologies have their positives and negatives, or their benefits and limitations, according to Ward, whether it's a cost difference or specific material properties that are needed. "It really comes down to deciding what is the end property for the product," said Ward. "This is when we sit down with the customer and identify what they need. It's not uncommon for them to come in and ask for option A, when option B might be the best process for that product."
As far as the processes are concerned, Ward calls SLA (stereo lithography) the "vanilla" process. He said that it works for just about anything and everything, it's simple to use, and a huge palette of materials is available for it. Patented in 1986, SLA is an additive manufacturing process that uses a liquid, an ultraviolet, photopolymer resin, and an ultraviolet laser to build part layers one at a time. A computer program tells the machine what to harden, what thicknesses to maintain, and the overall shape. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), patented in 1985, is a process that uses a high-power laser to fuse together small particles of plastic, ceramic, or glass into a 3D shape.
FRSLA (Fine Resolution SLA) is an advanced SLA process that Dinsmore developed and trademarked themselves. "We've worked to focus and refocus the beam of the lasers to create highly-detailed parts with FRSLA," said Ward. "It is ideally suited for industries like medical devices and aerospace, where small, precision parts are needed, and even for some consumer parts. We developed FRSLA over many years of working with resin manufacturers and printer manufacturers. We had customers that were requesting higher detail and finer resolution, and it just became an ongoing process of trial and error and discovery. We got to the point where we found what materials are best suited for this process."
FDM Can Create Parts in Actual Plastics For Rapid Manufacturing
The big difference between FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and SLA is that FDM uses actual thermoplastics. Unlike other additive processes that create models in a resin that mimics a plastic, FDM creates a part in actual plastic polymers. "FDM has really paved the way for functional use testing and direct digital manufacturing," said Ward. "FDM parts can be made with material properties that are stronger and can be used as test products. In the case of aerospace and automotive, printed parts that come off the machine are ready for production. These are some of the benefits of the FDM process; this process can be used for rapid manufacturing. Essentially, any one of these processes can be used for rapid manufacturing within limits, but FDM is the one that is most commonly used, next to the DMLS process."
PolyJet technology is very much an inkjet style of processing, where it's laying down a specific amount of material droplets as it swipes back and forth on a machine bed.
"What you're able to get with PolyJet is some of the highest flexibility and model quality," states Ward. "Because of the way the support structure is designed, we're able to get some of the smoothest edges and cleanest corners with this technology. So it really makes for ideal model masters, where the next step might be plastic or urethane casting. You get the ability to mix and match materials with some of the machines, where you can mix multiple materials into a single model. The best example I can give is printing a rim with a rubber-like tire on the outside. The PolyJet process is the only one that offers rubber-like materials, where you can manipulate and copy hardnesses found in different injection molding processes. It's not quite as robust as some of the models, at least with the rubber-like materials, but they do have some other materials that are very strong and machinable."
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is a process that is ideally suited for quick metal tooling and tool inserts, such as for fixtures and jigs. Ward said that not many companies, except for the larger firms, are using it. "It has to do with the cost of the machines and the cost of the prints," Ward explains. "But, for larger companies, where quick tooling is needed, it's the absolute go-to."
Dinsmore characterizes itself as a single source provider because it can deploy not only a large variety of additive manufacturing equipment, but a large assemblage of traditional manufacturing processes as well. The company prides itself on its ability to take a customer from a rough idea on a napkin, all the way to final production. Ward said that Dinsmore has all of the supporting technology, tools, and personnel necessary to meet most additive needs, and that its understanding of supply chain management enables it to get a product to market quickly. And because it has engineers and designers on staff, it can actually design parts from scratch.
An integral part of Dinsmore's overall operation is CNC machining (drilling, milling, and turning), which enables the company to make metal prototypes, metal tooling for its injection molding machines, and short run custom parts. "Some of our customers require a product that can't be made by additive manufacturing, so it needs to be made in a more traditional style of manufacturing," Ward said. "We can produce these traditional prototypes in the same kind of speed they expect from 3D printing. We can also take them to volume production runs. We've added multiple machines over this past summer, and an entire new facility just for this new demand."
The multi-faceted manufacturer also performs welding , sheet metal bending, and injection molding in-house. Ward said that 3D printing will change the face of manufacturing in some cases, but he also believes that injection molding is a process that can't be replaced for high-volume plastic parts. "When it comes to mass production of plastic products, you just can't compete with injection molding," he said. "For injection molding, there's a lot of money that has to be spent for metal tooling. You could use 3D printing for your tooling, but it's still a relatively high cost."
Many of Dinsmore's customers request prototypes that look and feel like the end use product; therefore, the company takes great pains to give the parts an authentic look, fit, and feel. Several finishing processes are available in-house—namely painting, sanding, and surface finishing—to help meet this need. Machining can also be enlisted to make parts fit with close tolerances. The company also handles powder coating and anodizing for the metal parts, and it has developed a plastic MC plating process with another manufacturer so that it can plate plastic parts with a metal-like finish.
In some cases, when customers need a short production run, Dinsmore will print a 3D model for a master pattern, and then make an RTV mold out of it, which is then used to create urethane castings. "It really keys into this new wave of mass customization," Ward affirms. "It isn't cost effective to keep building expensive tooling; however, plastic castings, coupled with 3D printing, allow you to make small design changes throughout the process to keep your costs much lower. And, the quality of a plastic casted part is on par with an injection molded part."
CEO and Founder Brings Many Years of Experience to Company
Jay Dinsmore, the company's CEO and founder, could easily be considered one of the pioneers of additive manufacturing. Mr. Dinsmore started the company 11 years ago, after spending many years working with 3D printing. "The hype recently about 3D printing makes it sound like something that just started, but the technology has been around for quite a while," Ward said. "Jay Dinsmore, our CEO, has been in the industry for a very long time. With a fascination for the industry 20 years ago, he decided that he wanted to be a part of it. Through the years, he has built many quality relationships and established a name for himself and the company."
The additive manufacturing company recently added a new machining facility, two new 3D printers, and a new 3D printing equipment and supply company. The new machining facility opened its doors for operation this summer, before the company had a minimal amount of space for its machine tools. "As we reached out to our customers, there became a higher demand for machining," Ward recalled. "So we decided to open up a new location to house our new CNC mills and lathes. We also have traditional machining equipment, and a specialized staff to operate this location. It's only about two miles from our existing facility, and we've added about seven new staff members for this new facility."
Dinsmore also added two new FDM 3D printers recently. The company specializes in doing critical, precision parts with complex geometry for its primary customers—the medical device and aerospace industries. "The aerospace industry is a huge user of FDM parts," said Ward. "So in order to meet the demand for them, we purchased the two new FDM machines."
Proto West, a new 3D equipment and supplies company that operates as a sister company of Dinsmore & Associates, was also launched recently by the company's CEO. Proto West reaches out to the consumer side of 3D printing by offering 3D printers, printing materials and supplies, and training.
"We want to offer the highest quality machines with the lowest price points that can be utilized by the average consumer," said Ward. "There are several different levels of equipment available for several different markets. The price of a 3D printer goes all the way from $500 all the way up to $1 million. There are hobby machines available for tinkering and making basic structures, but there are mid-range machines that cost about $6,000 to $10,000, and are capable of creating resolutions that would blow your mind. You're limited in build space to 3 x 3 x 3 inches, but it's very good quality. We launched this service company based on the mid-range printers, but now it's grown so we're looking at other printers and affordable processes that consumers would need."
Dinsmore has trademarked its Design For PrototypingTM (DFP) concept, an approach that Ward describes as "working with the end in mind." It consists, he said, of "taking concepts and ideas through various stages in the design life cycle in preparation for prototyping."
"Every design starts with a concept or idea, so I think Design For PrototypingTM is all about taking things all the way from idea to final production," Ward explained. "We'll prepare a design, and based on what their final needs are, we'll give them a design that is injection mold ready or 3D print ready. We want to make sure we set our customers up for success for the entire design-to-part process. This is really the foundation of the DFP process, keeping in mind what the finished product will be, designing along the way, and handling all the steps needed to get there."
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