Cardiff University experts solve manufacturing problem

Experts at Cardiff University's Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC) have solved a problem affecting models made by Stereolithography (SLA). Patent applications have been lodged.

SLA creates prototype models of products, such as mobile phone covers or vacuum cleaner shells, by using an Ultra Violet light beam to solidify liquid resins in response to instructions fed into the machine from data created by a 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) model.

During the building process, these models particularly hollow ones can collapse, become deformed or simply inaccurate, which can result in time delays and increased costs as the failed process is disposed of and the new process is started. This problem is known as 'Trapped Volumes' and has now been remedied.

Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and Deputy Director of the MEC, Stefan Dimov said: "This is another example of the research work carried out at the MEC solving difficult technical problems, improving commercial practices and assisting the global competitiveness of UK manufacturing companies."

SLA came into vogue in the UK in the 1990s at the same time as 3D CAD systems became available at increasingly affordable prices. The process automated and largely replaced traditional model making skills, which meant that models could be made overnight and delivered to the client a couple of days later.

SLA is now widely used to create early examples of covers and components, which allows engineers to confirm the fit and iron out any problems with assembly. It also allows Marketing people to test the product in the marketplace at the earliest stage of product development.

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The MEC was one of the first centres in the UK to provide this process to industry and also creates 3D CAD models for companies which do not have 3D CAD facilities. MEC operates the largest models of SLA equipment on the market, which allows companies to make large and often complex parts such as the body of a vacuum cleaner, or simultaneously produce numbers of smaller parts.

Notes to editors:
The Manufacturing Engineering Centre is one of the most advanced centres for manufacturing engineering in Europe, and is renowned as a multi-award-winning centre for design, development and manufacturing engineering. It employs 90 people and is growing. It has worked with several thousand industrial partners on more than 3,000 projects in the last nine years. It is the first autonomous research centre to be created by Cardiff University.

The MEC also produces models employing the largest Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) machines available. SLS machines use a powdered material which is fused by laser, layer by layer. In fact, SLS has now entered the realms of Rapid Manufacture at the MEC as components made by this process are now used directly for manufactured products, which are sold in diverse markets.

The third technique used for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacture is called a Fused Deposition Machine (FDM). A polymer called ABS is extruded through a nozzle into the shape directed by the CAD data.


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