14th September 2016
Speedo have cut design iteration times dramatically by the use of a Connex 3D printer when rapid prototyping hard goods.
Over 5 years ago leading distributor of Stratasys 3D printing systems, SYS UK, delivered the Objet Connex 350 three-dimensional printer to the Aqualab, Speedos global R&D facility in Nottingham. Today it continues to serve its purpose in innovative rapid prototyping of swimming goods whilst reducing iteration time and costs by eliminating outsourcing, whilst expanding design and development freedom.
The Aqualab, infamous for its reputation as a highly confidential department with restricted access for non-staff members, focuses on areas including sports science, engineering, materials development, and innovation during the development of Speedo products. Typical product research and development cycles can last anywhere up to five to ten years.
The facility provides many resources, including wet and dry labs for testing of materials, three-dimensional 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 the prototyping stage.
Before the Connex 350 was introduced in 2010, the company had to examine the latest rapid prototyping technology trends. Following an initial consultation with senior academics at Loughborough University’s Additive Manufacturing Research Group, the Head of Aqualab 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.
Chris Johnson, Design Manager for hard goods at the Aqualab, explains, “The decision to go with SYS was based on a number of different factors. Number one was the functionality that was offered so the arrays of materials which met our needs, the quality of the machines, the spec and the support.”
“I remember once the decision was made and the purchase went through the whole team undertook some training, the reps from SYS came in and they took us through and trained us on the maintenance aspects and then they also helped us and support us with the way we work, our current process with the 3D CAD and how we then translate it on to the machine to get the best outputs.”
The Connex 350 installed at Speedo’s Aqualab is a 3D printing system that jets multiple thermoplastic models 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 Connex 350 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.
Speedos Connex 3D printer 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 machines installation has empowered Aqualab, allowing for a speedier development process. Build times for a typical set of goggles usually take around 3-7 hours on the Connex, depending on size and quantity. Most are built in an upright position and the company can fit multiple pairs on the machines tray simultaneously, when required.
The production materials for Speedo goggles are silicones and TPRs (thermoplastic rubbers), all of which are replicated by Objet materials. Based on Objets breakthrough PolyJet Matrix Technology, the Connex 350 3D printer simultaneously prints two FullCure model materials and creates an extensive range of Digital Materials. By printing with Digital Materials, the Connex 3D printer allows users to print parts with specific Shore A hardness values to match the values of the intended production materials.
Chris continues, “By bringing the 3D printer, a Connex350 machine, we were able to print rapid prototypes in flexible materials, the Veroclear, which would simulate a polycarbonate lens that you could view through, the TangoBlackPlus, which would then simulate a silicone goggle gasket. Straight away we could print a prototype of a goggle in a day, clean it up, take it down to the pool, swim in it, and understand what’s happening with the vision. Is it comfortable? What’s the fit like? Is it leaking? We could learn a whole host of insights which then the following day, myself and the other designers could then incorporate that into the design.” He added, “Within that usual 5 week period of one handmade sample, we could have done a number of different iterations and we could have really refined that product so the comfort and fit was optimum.”
Before purchasing the Connex 3D printer the design team would have sourced handmade samples from outside the lab, costing them additional time and money. Chris added, “At the time we wouldn’t be able to find out how the products performed in the water in the correct materials until really late down the line in the process, just before production. But unfortunately in our existing process that was so far down the line we were then left with a very small amount of time to then refine and improve any issues. If we were lucky on projects we would do two iterations of a handmade sample and then we would commit to production tooling and once you’ve gone to production tooling if there’s problems after that it is very expensive.”
“It allows us to have a better quality design development process so we can create the design, take it into 3D CAD, we can then simulate with FEA and CFD to understand how it should and might perform and then we can validate it by printing the prototypes. What it allows us to do is de-risk, so by doing these additional iterations you end up with a better product. It’s opened up new avenues, new opportunities, because once you have the machine it’s at the heart of the process really.”
Chris concluded, “We’ve got the Connex350 and over the past five years it’s delivered. If you’re a designer and you’re looking for a 3D printer I would certainly recommend and SYS machine. They”re really great and supportive in terms of when there’s new information, new materials and they’re always offering to come in and visit us, and give us a full briefing on what is available which is fantastic. It’s definitely put myself in good stead for the years that we’ve used the machine.”