3D Printing Processes

3D Systems and TE Connectivity collaborate on AM connectors

New production workflow and UL recognized photopolymer enable production of end-use parts in weeks without tooling

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In a major new development for the implementation of 3D printing in serial and mass production, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) is collaborating with TE Connectivity, a world leader in connectors and sensors, to jointly develop an additive manufacturing solution to produce electrical connectors meeting stringent UL regulatory requirements.

The solution comprising 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Modular, Figure 4 material, 3D Sprint software, and services was designed to meet TE Connectivity’s unique requirements for material performance and high tolerance, reliable printing.

The foundation of the solution is a newly developed photopolymer 3D Systems engineered specifically to meet TE Connectivity’s requirements. In addition to a world-class flammability rating at 0.4mm thickness, it is the first known printable photopolymer to complete a UL1-recognized long-term thermal aging (RTI) study. This material combined with an optimized print process enables the necessary reliability and accuracy required for TE Connectivity’s products.

Using 3D Systems’ Figure 4 technology, the combination of new material properties, speed, and accuracy allows the production of rugged industrial products for the first time, targeted at appliances, cellular and data-center applications. Additive manufacturing provides TE Connectivity freedom of design to create complex geometries that would be difficult to create using injection molding. It increases flexibility for low volume, quick turn production runs, and tooling avoidance, allowing TE to quickly demonstrate its capabilities and its customers to more efficiently meet demand.

3D Systems and TE Connectivity collaborate on AM production of connectors via a new workflow and UL recognized photopolymer
3D Systems Figure 4 production configuration.

3D Systems’ Application Innovation Group (AIG) collaborated with TE Connectivity’s team to develop a full production workflow from design to a finished connector. The program included the development and UL certification of a new Figure 4 material. UL regulatory approval has been obtained, including UL94 V0 flame rating at 0.4mm, Glow Wire Ignition (GWI) of 800°C, Comparative Tracking Index (CTI) of 600V (equivalent to a PLC of 0), and Relative Temperature Index (RTI) for long-term electrical and mechanical use of 150C and 130C, respectively.

“Customer-centric innovation is at the core of everything we do,” said Reji Puthenveetil, Executive Vice President, of Industrial Solutions, 3D Systems. “The collaboration with TE Connectivity provided the understanding and requirements of the unique application being addressed and enabled the development of the solution. Our materials scientists and print process experts worked very closely with the TE team to formulate a material that, when used in conjunction with our Figure 4 technology, delivered on the high quality, high-reliability standards their customers have come to expect. This is yet another example of how 3D Systems is partnering with industry leaders to accelerate innovation and build competitive advantage through additive manufacturing solutions.”

TE introduced 3D printing back in 1987, through AMP, one of its predecessor companies. At the time, TE was one of six companies worldwide to test and use this technology in a production environment. Initiated by TE employee and 3D printing advocate Robert (Bob) Zubrickie, a mechanic by nature who joined AMP in 1979 and now runs TE’s Pennsylvania-based 3D Printing and Prototyping Center, the company’s adoption of 3D printing began with running stereolithography machines (also known as SLA or SL) in two locations – the plants in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Charlotte, North Carolina.

At the time, TE was using SLA to quickly fabricate prototypes of products, such as connectors. Though this was an immediate hit with customers, early 3D printing showed a crucial drawback: the materials then available could only produce very brittle prototypes. Models broke very easily, and the brittleness often failed to demonstrate a design’s functionality.

3D Systems and TE Connectivity collaborate on AM production of connectors via a new workflow and UL recognized photopolymer
Automotive connectors from TE.

As photopolymer materials evolved, the company began targeting AM production applications and has done so for some time. Its 3D Printing for Production process (3D4P) looks to employ the latest advances in materials (AM) and technologies to produce complex parts for aerospace and defense components rapidly. For a wide range of products and geometries—from connectors, backshells, clamps, fiber-optic breakouts, and more—3D4P from TE Connectivity provides the advantages of high-mix, low volume solution without conventional manufacturing limitations.

“As 3D printing technology evolves, we’re seeing more opportunities for using it to manufacture products for customers who need a low volume of parts in a short timeframe,” said Philip Gilchrist, VP and segment chief technology officer for Communications Solutions at TE Connectivity. “Our work with 3D Systems enables us to provide our customers with functional parts in just weeks instead of months.”

TE looks to AM as a tool-free method of making objects directly from CAD data using Flame, Smoke, and Toxicity (FST) photopolymers suited to aerospace applications. With 3D4P from TE, components can be produced without computer numeric control (CNC) machining, injection molding, or investment casting. Parts and assembly time are minimized. No tools or minimum orders are required. As direct-to-order process, 3D4P helps eliminate inventory and downtime for setup, further shortening lead times.

Today, TE’s 3D Printing and Prototyping Center in Pennsylvania operates seven different technologies and uses thirty types of materials. In 2017, the center fulfilled more than 700 work orders – with an average turnaround of three days – submitted through the company’s online work order system: this amounted to several million US dollars in cost savings – over only six months – on production and prototyping projects. Today, TE continues find new ways to fabricate quality, functional prototypes of electronic components additively.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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