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A knowledge-based manufacturing system, established by integrating Rapid Manufacturing, IST and Material Science to improve the Quality of Life of European Citizens through Custom fit Products.

Final Report Summary - CUSTOM-FIT (A knowledge-based manufacturing system, established by integrating Rapid Manufacturing, IST and Material Science to improve the Quality of Life of Europeans ...)

This report aimed to give a general introduction of geometric customisation of rapid manufactured goods. With the CUSTOM-FIT project as the main inspiration, the basic principles regarding the technology and business aspects of this exciting new development were laid down.

The aim of CUSTOM-FIT was to make a contribution to the transformation of the manufacturing sector of Europe into high-tech industries in order to regain competitiveness. The project was supported by the EU in the light of the Framework 6 development programs. CUSTOM-FIT set out to develop and integrate a completely new and breakthrough manufacturing process delivering unrestricted geometrical freedom, gradient structures of different material compositions using less labour efforts and improved Rapid Manufacturing (RM) machines and processes. The project emphasised on products that would increase the quality of life of the European citizen and on applications were large market potential existed. Hence the project focused on medical goods and the customisation of consumer durables.

In 1986 the SLA-1 of A. Herbert, C. Hull and M. Kodama was the first Rapid Manufacturing machine ever build. Since then, RM made a long journey from prototyping to manufacturing. It was developed into a promising technology, which according to some is triggering a new industrial (digital) revolution. Product development, product tool development and production tool manufacturing have lately been speed up thanks to rapid prototyping. Rapid Manufacturing is speeding up the total production and product formation process including manufacturing and part production. This makes it an ideal production method for end products as well as parts.

RM starts with the identification of the requirements of the final product. This relates to the functional and aesthetic specification of the product, but also the geometric data from the end user must be captured if you want to create custom fitted products. The geometric data are translated into 3D data which will then be imported into a CAD file. In physical products, reverse engineering is a common way to capture 3D shapes. Reverse engineering is the reproduction of a physical object with the aid of drawings, documentation or computer model data. Reverse engineering is used when a shape needs to be produced for which no CAD data exist, like is the case with hand crafted products or natural products including human shapes.

3D data of such objects will mostly be captured by scanning it. Several scanners and scanning techniques are available. Three general scanning techniques can be identified that can be used for Rapid Manufacturing:
- Contact probes. This is a scanning technique that generates an 3D imaging through contact of a highly sensitive sensor on a object.
- Laser and LED techniques. A wide variety of lasers and LEDs can be used to scan an object. With this technique an object is scanned by light without contacting the object.
- Medical scanning. In hospitals, several scanning techniques are used to scan (through) bodies. Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans are well known scanning techniques to generated 3D images of (internal) body.

One of the major drivers for the development of Rapid Manufacturing is the potential for radically different product designs. Rapid Manufacturing has the ability to produce parts of virtually any shape complexity without the need for any tooling. Increasing the complexity is largely independent of costs, whereas in conventional manufacturing there is a direct link between complexity and costs.

For CUSTOM-FIT products three data modification steps are needed to generate machines instructions for rapid production from a scanned object. Software plays a crucial role in these three steps:

First, scanned data will be translated into a CAD file. This CAD file can be used to generate the final design of the product. In conventional production processes, before the final design of a product is created, testing of a prototype or first of tool is normally performed. For the unique, one-off products that are rapid manufactured, testing is not an option; there is only one product produced. Virtual simulation and modelling will allow optimization of a product design at low cost. After simulation and modelling the final design of the product is created. This CAD file should then be translated into machine instructions. These are crucial if the Rapid Manufacturing machine is to produce an exact 3D physical replica of the CAD file. Without a proper software link between the CAD file and the machine instructions, even the best Rapid Manufacturing machines will not produce the desired end results.

There are several techniques to manufacture a product rapidly. The four most used techniques for Rapid Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping are Stereo Lithographic Apparatus (SL), Laser Sintering (LS), Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) and 3D printing. These four techniques use three basic materials to build products layer by layer: SL is liquid based, LS and 3D printing are powder based and FDM is solid based.

After an object is scanned, designed and translated into machine instruction and the machine is available, the only thing left are appropriate materials to produce the rapid manufactured products. Rapid Manufacturing is based on so called Additive Manufacturing Technologies. This implies that the materials used for Rapid Manufacturing have to have the right characteristics to be produced layer by layer. The materials should adhere fast during the process and finalised the products should have the right functional properties like strength, durability etc. Material properties and machine processes are highly interconnected. The successive layer by layer adding of materials imply that the final material properties of the end product depends as much on the process parameters of the machine as on the type of material used.

The most commonly used materials for Rapid Manufacturing are polymers and metals.

Rapid Manufacturing can bring cost savings and added value to mass produced products as well as unique or in small batches produced products. These benefits come for many application areas. Its main advantages are increased well being for users, increased effectiveness of products, savings on costs and (tool) investments and gains in design freedom, process efficiency and environmental footprint in the supply chain. This makes Rapid Manufacturing a promising way of doing business in many fields.

Customisation through Rapid Manufacturing is not for everybody. Companies should well consider the business aspects of the technology before investing in it. The market potential for CUSTOM-FIT products is large. The CUSTOM-FIT process already brings financial and commercial gains in both the medical and consumer durable sector. In these applications, companies have overcome the strategic, commercial, financial, supply chain and legal barriers. They did so largely by taking these business considerations into account before embarking on the technological development. If the business case adds up, customisation and Rapid Manufacturing is a promising path to a profitable future. In order for companies to embark on this exciting journey, they should:
- Think about the business implications of RM upfront;
- Have an integral view on RM: manage your buy-in in the chain;
- Regard RM as strategic priority. It will fail as an innovation trial or mere status symbol;
- Go for the Total business gain of RM, instead of merely a reduction in tools.

In the short run, with dropping costs and enhancements in materials and machines, Rapid Manufacturing could become a wide spread phenomena. It is becoming a mainstream technology in the aerospace and automotive industry. It is allowing new and customised 3D models for architects. It is giving total design freedom to furniture designers and is allowing gamers to get 3D physical prints of their virtual avatars.

In the long run, 3D printers will find their way into people's homes. Multi-materials and the incorporation of nanotechnology in rapid manufactured goods will revolutionize the manufacturing industry. Surgeons will be able to print customised, rapid manufactured implants from biodegradable materials.