Disillusioned with waiting weeks for an outsourced prototype, then having to start the process again if the design needed modifications, a specialist in scientific analytical systems made the switch to in-house 3D printing six years ago when it acquired a Stratasys Eden 250 from SYS Systems. Now, such has been the success of the machine that the company has returned to SYS for an upgrade in the shape of a Stratasys Objet500 Connex 3.
With its larger bed, ability to print different multi-material parts simultaneously and myriad of available material blend and colour combinations, prototyping has reached a whole new level.
For more than 50 years, Waters has developed innovative analytical science solutions to support customer discoveries, operations, performance and regulatory compliance. The company holds worldwide leading positions in complementary analytical technologies, including liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, rheometry and microcalorimetry.
The focus at the company’s recently constructed, purpose-built plant in Wilmslow, UK, which houses around 600 employees, is the design and manufacture of mass spectrometry systems. In fact, the state-of-the-art 2,313m² facility is believed to be the largest site in the world committed to the support and development of these advanced devices.
Waters’ facility has been designed and equipped to accelerate innovation in mass spectrometry, a sophisticated analytical laboratory technology that enables scientists to analyse tiny quantities of substances and chemical components, often within complex mixtures, to discover their composition on a molecular level. The technique applies to a spectrum of fields and has a huge impact on quality of life, safeguarding food and water supplies, protecting the environment and advancing healthcare. Applications range from drug discovery through to quality assurance procedures at beverage plants.
One of the key technologies helping to accelerate innovation at Waters is 3D printing. Six years ago the company invested in a Stratasys Eden 250, which at the end of 2016 was upgraded to the latest Objet500 Connex3 machine.
“The Eden 250 had served its time; 3D printing technology had moved on and we were keen to take advantage,” explains Haydn Murray, Mechanical Design Engineer at Waters. “As the Eden machine had performed so well, we opted to invest in another Stratasys 3D printer. We particularly like PolyJet technology as it is ideal for our high-precision, small assemblies – especially as we also require a high level of surface finish. What’s more, the Objet500 Connex3 offers a larger bed so we can print multiple parts simultaneously, while the potential to have up to 100 materials – including blends and colours – available on the tray at any one time is also advantageous. It’s great to have different prototypes made in different colours as it helps us see designs more clearly when components are assembled.”
Rob Thompson, Sales Manager at SYS Systems – part of the Derbyshire-based Carfulan Group – said: “The larger bed and greater material capability are clear benefits for Waters. What’s more, the ability to print different, multi-material parts on the same tray, at the same time, is an often-overlooked advantage.
“The Objet500 Connex3 represents an extremely flexible 3D-printing solution. We’ve got a long-standing business relationship with Waters and we’re very pleased to help them move to the next level.”
Waters’ mass spectrometry technologies have advanced significantly over the past few years, especially with the introduction of high-end instruments such as the SYNAPT® and Xevo® ranges. Here, 3D printing has played its part in the development process.
“Before having a 3D printer in-house we would have to outsource and sometimes wait eight weeks for a prototype – if we were ordering a one-off we’d usually be at the bottom of the priority list,” says Mr Murray. “Once we received the prototype, any modifications meant we’d have to start the process again. In contrast, we can now 3D-print overnight and have our prototype the next day.”
The Objet500 Connex3 is used most days at Waters. In total, three engineers are trained in programming the machine – training that was delivered by SYS Systems.
“SYS Systems has been very friendly and responsive throughout our working relationship,” states Mr Murray. “In addition, they always provide good technical support over the phone.”
A recent example of a 3D-printed prototype part at Waters is a drip tray for a new generation of mass spectrometers. Measuring approximately 300mm in length, the part is printed from Rigur (RGD450), an advanced simulated polypropylene material that offers durability and high-quality surface finish. This office-friendly material is engineered to deliver reliable performance and dimensionally stable prototypes. Features on the drip tray were printed to a tolerance of 0.1mm.
In the second iteration, the mechanical design team at Waters incorporated changes to the slots in the centre of the prototype. These modifications were to accommodate a plug for mounting purposes, thus improving component ergonomics.
“The first and second iterations of this part centred on basic yet functional features,” explains Mr Murray. “We need to get these aspects right before thinking about how the part looks.”
At the next stage of the design process, engineers at Waters began to address component aesthetics. Although the part is situated behind a door, it will be seen regularly by the end user.
“Obviously aesthetics are not important at the start of the prototyping process, but in the third iteration we began to have a more clear idea on how we wanted to part to appear visually,” says Mr Murray. “As a result, the component was extended considerably to add balance, while we also took the opportunity to introduce a recessed pocket as a convenience feature upon which tools can be rested.”
The fourth design saw the introduction of a few final refinements. For example, dimples were added to the bosses for the purposes of user identification, while a central recess was removed for reasons of aesthetics.
“Each prototype took around four to five hours to print,” explains Mr Murray. “We would print overnight, arriving in the morning to assess the prototype and start thinking about any necessary modifications.
“Prior to having a 3D printer we’d be looking at well in excess of a week for each one. Furthermore, the cost would have likely been around £300 each, so the savings are considerable.”
The drip tray is now in the process of becoming a production part, where it will be hard-tooled ready for injection moulding.