Rapid-prototyping-and-manufacturing specialist 3D Systems has revealed the latest version of its SLA-5000 stereolithography device.

Stereolithography is a process used to produce plastic prototype parts for the analysis, verification and testing of designs, as well as for conceptual models. In some cases, the parts produced by this method can also be used for production tooling and low-volume manufacturing, or as a mould for tools used in series production.

The SLA-5000, like its predecessors, can be used to build quickly an accurate three-dimensional part directly from computer-aided design/manufacture (CAD/CAM) software. The parts are produced by firing a computer-controlled ultra-violet (UV) laser into liquid photopolymer, which hardens layer by layer, growing the solid part gradually.

Optical-scanning can also be used to reverse the process, producing a computer model from an existing part and then producing a plastic clone.

Boeing North America is investigating the SLA-5000 for the cost-cutting and time-saving benefits it may give compared to its existing device. "We've used the present system to actually build new air ducts for the Space Shuttle, and we've also used it to solve a door- mechanism problem on the same project," says the company.

Throughput per hour is faster by "at least 20%", says 3D. Using a higher-power UV laser also allows the SLA-5000 to add much thinner layer thicknesses, of 0.05mm compared with the previous best of 0.10mm, thereby enhancing accuracy. The device also uses about six times less power than its predecessors, and does not require external water cooling, says 3D.

Source: Flight International