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Il n’est pas difficile de provoquer Frank Ziberna, directeur R&D chez Bi-Link, une entreprise internationale d’ingénierie et de fabrication basée à Bloomingdale dans l’Illinois. Il suffit de lui dire que quelque chose est irréalisable.

Over the last three years, Ziberna and his colleagues at Bi-Link have heard all about the limitations of 3D printing for creating injection molds and production-quality sample parts: not fast enough, quality’s not up to snuff, can’t use production-level materials, molds can’t stand the heat or pressure. Like the biblical David, Bi-Link has smitten all comers.

Quelques jours au lieu de mois

Bi-Link currently uses three ProJet® MJP (multi Jet Printing) systems from 3D Systems to produce injection mold tooling and sample parts. The ProJet MJP is designed to produce functional plastic parts for professional-grade design and manufacturing applications. It uses 3D Systems’ specially engineered VisiJet® M3 materials, offering UV-curable plastic in a range of colors, translucencies and tensile strengths.

La combinaison des imprimantes 3D Systems, des matériaux avancés et d’une technique exclusive de post-traitement procure aux moules finis une meilleure résistance que le matériau d’origine, selon Ray Ziganto, président de Bi-Link.

The beneficiaries of Bi-Link’s capabilities are electronics and medical manufacturing companies around the world—most of which can’t be named because of confidentiality agreements—for which Bi-Link delivers what was previously thought impossible.

“Customers love this service,” says Ziberna. “They would typically have to wait two to three weeks to get just tooling, never mind test parts. With the ProJet MJP we made one customer four different part designs over the course of six days, shipping them 10-12 parts for each iteration overnight.

« Nous avons réduit à une semaine le cycle de conception et de test qui prenait entre trois et quatre mois. Pour les pièces médicales, nous en sommes à la création des deuxièmes et troisièmes révisions pour un client avant même que les concurrents aient pu produire leur première pièce de test ».

Aucun compromis

The sample parts created by Bi-Link use the same material as the customer’s production parts, whether it is liquid crystal polymer (LCP), polycarbonate, polystyrene, elastomer or other thermoplastic materials. Bi-Link has even developed 3D-printed molds for insert-molding applications.

« Le client n’a pas à arrondir les angles, ni à faire des concessions sur la conception », ajoute Frank Ziberna. « Nous lui fournissons des pièces dans le matériau qu’il utilisera réellement en production. Il n’a donc pas besoin d’ajuster la conception ou de modifier les pièces ».

No corners are cut when it comes to performance, either. Bi-Link’s molds often are subjected to temperatures of more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit and withstand several tons of pressure with no degradation, according to Ziberna.

“You can put the 3D printed mold in the Morgan (a small plastic molding machine) and exert eight to 10 tons of pressure and it doesn’t mind,” he says.

Forms, fixtures, insert mold tooling, hybrid tools, thermoforming -- Bi-Link can do just about anything up to 10 inches long. As many as 200 parts can be manufactured from a typical injection mold printed in the ProJet MJP and finished with Bi-Link’s tempering process. A customer that provides Bi-Link with a CAD file in the morning can be making parts the next afternoon from the 3D-printed mold.

The sample parts and injection molds aren’t limited to simple patterns. Ziberna is happy to show the level of detail Bi-Link can achieve, rattling off features such as deep cores and recesses, tiny holes, clamp inserts in the mold, thin walls, small undercuts, and fine 1.5mm teeth.

“We make no concessions on tolerances,” he says. “We demand the same quality for parts as we get out of a steel mold. Any part you can manufacture, we can produce from a 3D-printed mold -- exact material at a lower cost and one-fifth the lead time.”



“We make no concessions on tolerances. We demand the same quality for parts as we get out of a steel mold. Any part you can manufacture, we can produce from a 3D-printed mold -- exact material at a lower cost and one-fifth the lead time.”
—Frank Ziberna, R&D Director, Bi-Link

Le point de vue du client

On serait tenté de croire que ce sont des paroles en l’air, jusqu’à ce que le processus soit démontré en temps réel, que les pièces soient examinées minutieusement et qu’un client vérifie les déclarations de Frank Ziberna.

Curt Thornton, principal engineer for surgical R&D at Teleflex, based in Research Triangle Park, NC, is happy to provide testimony. Teleflex is a global provider of medical devices used in critical care and surgery. The company uses Bi-Link for both prototype and production components, usually 100 parts or less.

“I’ve been really impressed with the insert molds that Bi-Link has made from the 3D Systems printer,” says Thornton. “These tools really give us an assembly that represents a production process at a fraction of the cost.”

Thornton says that Teleflex has used the 3D-printed molds to produce more than a dozen different components from materials that include polycarbonate, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and LCP. He expects 3D printing to continue playing a major role in his company’s experiments with new designs and materials.

“You never know what new materials or processes will be required to produce a complete product. Bi-Link’s 3D printing tools and expertise give us options for low-volume prototypes that were not available in the past.”

Un avenir si prometteur...

Naturally, Ray Ziganto, Bi-Link’s president, has a vision for the future of 3D printing for injection molding and tooling.

“It’s time to start looking beyond the obvious uses of 3D printing -- creating a physical representation of a CAD model -- and really challenge the capabilities of the technology,” he says.

Ziganto sees a wider range of materials coming into the 3D printing mainstream, including greater use of metal and metal replacement parts for tooling and components, biocompatible materials for implants and other applications requiring human contact, conductive materials for electronics, and elastomers for wearable products.

« J’adorerais voir la technologie pouvoir mieux gérer différentes variantes d’outillages, pour des procédés tels que le RIM (moulage par injection et réaction), la fabrication métallique/l’estampage et le façonnage de fil », ajoute-t-il.

With 3D printing capabilities roughly doubling every 18 months for the last 10 years according to 3D Systems, it’s a good bet that Ziganto’s wish list will be fulfilled. In the words of Curt Thornton of Teleflex: “The future of 3D printing is limited only to one’s imagination.”