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Speedo have cut design iteration times dramatically by the use of a Connex 3D printer when rapid prototyping swimwear.

Objet Connex 3D Printer Cuts Prototyping Time by Weeks at Speedo.

Sold and installed by Objet’s UK distributor, SYS Systems Limited, the innovative rapid prototyping machine has taken up residence within Aqualab, Speedo’s global R&D facility at the company’s Nottingham worldwide hub, where it has reduced prototyping time and costs significantly for swim products such as goggles.

Aqualab, a highly confidential department with restricted access for non-staff members, focuses on areas including sports science, engineering, materials development, design and innovation during the development of Speedo products. Typical research and development cycles can last up to 5-10 years.

Dr Tom Waller, Head of Aqualab:

“R&D at Speedo is defined and driven by terms such as ‘perform better’, ‘feel good’ and ‘have fun’. These phrases reflect consumer needs and aspirations and epitomise the company’s philosophy.”

The facility provides many resources, including wet and dry labs for testing of materials, 3D scanning technologies, a full sampling facility and inspiring creative spaces where R&D personnel are free to scrawl newly hatched ideas and suggestions on the walls.

The development process entails creating a body of information extracted from external partners and internal resources which is fed into innovation teams to develop ideas and insights. The aim is to develop an ‘ingredients’ list of technology platforms which are brought to prototype stage.

As a first step, the company examined the latest rapid prototyping technology trends. Upon consultation with senior academics at Loughborough University’s Additive Manufacturing Research Group, Dr Waller was keen to understand which technology would best allow the actual wearing/trialling of products that had been produced using rapid prototyping. The answer was the Objet Connex 3D printer.

Dr Waller:

“We like the multi-materials capability of the Objet Connex 3D printer as well as its potential to mix material hardness for the purpose of trials.”

The Connex350 installed at Speedo’s Aqualab is a 3D printing system that jets multiple model materials simultaneously. It offers the unique ability to print parts and assemblies made of multiple model materials, with different mechanical or physical properties, in a single build. Taking the concept even further, the Connex350 can also fabricate Digital Materials on the fly, enabling users to create composite materials that have preset combinations of mechanical properties.

Building products for consumers at all levels of ability and expertise, Aqualab regularly works with swimmers in the development of its products, including elite athletes such as double Olympic champion, Rebecca Adlington, and the most decorated athlete of all time, Michael Phelps.

According to Dr Waller, their input is essential in the development process:

“Consumers are at the heart of everything we produce, their input and feedback helps us to refine our designs, helping us to affirm our position as the number one swimwear brand.”

Installed in July 2010, the Connex350 is used nearly every day, allowing prototypes to go from CAD model in the morning to in the pool by the afternoon. For Speedo, the machine’s installation has “empowered” Aqualab, allowing for a speedier development process. Build times for a typical set of goggles, for example, are around 3-7 hours on the Connex depending on size and quantity. Most are built in an upright position and the company can fit many pairs on the machine’s tray for simultaneous build if required.

The production materials for Speedo goggles are silicones and TPRs (thermoplastic rubbers), all of which are replicated by Objet materials. Based on Objet’s breakthrough PolyJet Matrix Technology, the Connex350 3D printer simultaneously prints two FullCure model materials (there are seven available) and creates an extensive range of Digital Materials. By printing with Digital Materials, the Connex350 allows users to print parts with specific ‘Shore A’ hardness values to match the values of the intended production materials.