The Stockholm based design agency Splitvision Design has been among the first Nordic companies to invest in 3D Systems’ 3d printer, Figure 4. With their investment, the company can now evaluate fitting and assembly with incredible accuracy before moving in to serial production. At the same time, the Figure 4 gives them a productivity boost in prototyping.
Since the start some thirty years ago, Splitvision Design (then named Formbolaget), has done a wide variety of design work. From point-of-sales solutions, to bespoke truck cabs. Today, they work almost exclusively with industrial design for technology intensive companies in the medtech and automotive verticals. The thing that makes Splitvision unique is that they offer services that stretch beyond the average design agency – with a focus on manufacturing and logistics.
”Even though we set out as a traditional design agency, over the years, we’ve seen that we get a better and more controllable manufacturing process, the more responsibility we put in to these steps”, says Lukass Legzdins, R&D Manager at Splitvision Design.
”We went from being just working with design, to engineering, planning, purchasing and logistics. We also have offices in China that handle the day to day contact with manufacturing over there. Here, we also perform QC and monitor the supply chain. All in all, this creates really good results, and enable us to add a lot more value to manufacturing already in the concept phase.”
Better prototyping with 3D printing
This type of turnkey approach is also reflected in prototyping. With their new Figure 4 printer from 3D Systems, installed by 3D Systems’ Nordic partner, PLM Group, the company expands their services portfolio and adds competence to product development. Now, Splitvision can offer better physical prototypes, printed inhouse. At the same time, with the help of their high quality 3D printed parts, they can optimize the data needed before ordering injection moulding tools.
Before using 3D printing, prototyping was a tedious and manual work. They worked with materials in foam and plastics to explore geometries and ergonomy, sometimes in full scale.
Prototypes for functional tests or for customer review, were bought from a third party supplier, either from Sweden or China.
”Then, all of a sudden, there was this period when we had a massive amount of products under development, and everything basically piled up as we waited around for our 3D printed prototypes”, says Lukass Legzdins. “That’s the moment we decided to invest in an inhouse 3D printer, and luckily, it coincided with us discovering the Figure 4.”
Splitivision has worked for several years with a number of innovative medtech companies, a few of these are hearing aids brands.
Splitvision had no prior experience with DLP technology (Digital Light Processing), which is an offspring of SLA, stereolithography. It had previously gone under the radar, as SLA parts rarely displayed the mechanical properties the company needed. But with the Figure 4, the technology suddenly became very interesting.
Splitivision has worked for several years with a number of innovative medtech companies, a few of these are hearing aids brands. The production often consists of associated products, such as hearing aid casings, as the companies have optimized their production lines for their core products. But hearing aid casings can be tricky to design and manufacture. They need to protect the hearing aid, be of excellent quality and reflect the brand, and be durable over time.
“3D Systems’ material ELAST-BLK 10 has properties similar to TPE, it’s beyond our expectations”, says Lukass Legzdins, R&D Manager, Splitvision.
The casings that Splitvision design and manufacture are partly made of TPE or silicone. The soft lining keep the hearing aids in place and protect them from the everyday wear and tear. But 3D printing TPE and silicone is next to impossible, if you want good results. The only option is to mould, which is a big challenge when you want to evaluate design and investigate potential assembly challenges.
The majority of hearing aid cases designed and produced by Splitvision are partly made of TPE and silicone.
”After receiving a number of print samples from PLM Group, we realised that 3D Systems’ material ELAST-BLK 10 had properties that were very close to an injection moulded elastomer, it was beyond our expectations”, says Lukass Legzdins. “The material also gives well-defined surfaces, we can see detailed shapes and facets.”
“But most importantly it allows us to evaluate the assembly process, to identify potential challenges. Overall, it’s an excellent way for us to get confirmation of the geometry, while at the same time enabling our customers to do their own user tests.”
Combined with using the rigid material TOUGH-GRY 15, Splitvision can add more detail to their parts. With the high resolution of the printer, there’s rarely any need for finishing.
”One could say that our Figure 4 takes us one loop closer to reality”, says Lukass Legzdins. “Previously, we used to add more margin to our CAD files before ordering tools. Now, we can skip one or two loops in the development phase, as we have so much more geometrical data from the 3D printed prototypes. The result is fewer incremental changes and adjustments to the tool.”
The Figure 4 printer also reflects Splitvision’s core values in product development.
”When we work with customers, we want to add our competence in design and manufacturing, wherever we see that we can optimize function. We use this knowledge to raise the quality of the product to new levels”, says Lukass Legzdins.