3D Systems recently revealed that Stockholm-based product design firm Splitvision Design was one of the first companies in the Nordic region to adopt its Figure 4 Standalone 3D printer. Since installing the scalable additive manufacturing solution, the Swedish agency has seen drastic improvements in its product development and prototyping processes—especially for products in the medtech sector.
Formerly known as Formbolaget, Splitvision Design has been around for roughly three decades, working for clients in a variety of sectors, from point-of-sale solutions to custom truck cabs. Nowadays, the company specializes in industrial product design for the medtech and automotive industries, working with clients to develop new products as well as to support them on the manufacturing and logistics fronts.
As Lukass Legzdins, R&D manager at Splitvision Design, explained: “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 when we focus on these steps. We went from just working with design, up 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 quality control and monitor the supply chain. All in all, this creates really good results, and enables us to add a lot more value to manufacturing even at the concept phase.”
Recently, the company’s prototyping practices have undergone a positive transformation thanks to the installation of 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Standalone 3D printer, a versatile machine designed for low-volume production, repeatability and industrial quality.
The most notable advantage of investing in the 3D printer (which was installed by PLM Group) is that it has enabled the Splitvision team to bring its prototyping in house. Prior to 3D printing, the company relied primarily on manual techniques, working with foams or plastics, to prototype new products and explore different geometries and ergonomics. In later stages, functional prototypes for customer review were ordered from third party suppliers in China or Sweden.
Since installing 3D printing in house, however, the company has the ability to print design and functional prototypes at faster rates. “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,” said Legzdins. “That’s the moment we decided to invest in an in-house 3D printer, and luckily, it coincided with us discovering the Figure 4.”
One particular area where the Figure 4 Standalone has made an important difference to the Swedish company is in its medtech product development, and specifically for hearing aid casings.
Traditionally, hearing aid casings and other associated products were challenging to produce, as they must protect the hearing aid, remain durable and reflect the client’s brand. Before 3D printing, Splitvision used molds to produce its casings from either TPE or silicone, which are soft enough to protect the hearing aids but are notoriously difficult to 3D print.
The Figure 4, which is based on an SLA-adjacent process, has presented a suitable alternative, however. One which makes it easier to explore and evaluate new design concepts. Notably, Splitvision realized it could work with 3D Systems’ ELAST-BLK 10 material, which demonstrates similar properties to rubber but is easily printable.
“After receiving a number of print samples from PLM Group, we realized that 3D Systems’ Figure 4 ELAST-BLK 10 material had the same properties as rubber. It was beyond our expectations,” said Legzdins. “The material enables 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.”
Splitvision has found its best results by combining the rubber-like material with the rigid Figure 4 TOUGH-GRY 15 material, which enables the company to add more detail to the parts. The quality of the printed prototypes also means that the design agency can forego most post-processing steps.
“One could say that our Figure 4 takes us one step closer to reality,”concluded Legzdins. “Previously, we added more margin to our CAD files before ordering tools. Now, we can skip one or two steps in the development phase, as we have much more geometrical data from the 3D printed prototypes. The result is fewer incremental changes and adjustments to the tool. 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.”