Thursday, December 31, 2009

CAD/CAM Technology at EuroMold

December 25th 2009:
Recently i had the opportunity to visit EuroMold 2009 (infact, it was my first visit to EuroMold, although i have been craving to visit since almost 5 years now) & the experience was great! Supposed to be the ultimate exhibition for CAD/CAM technology, most of the technology gets launched in EuroMold, so you have the opportunity to get a glance of it before it comes to the market. Since my domain is restricted to CAD, RE & RP, i was particularly interested in evaluating technologies in the area of RE & RP ( especially 3D Scanners & New RP Introductions) & i must say that a few products caught my eye.
I would like to highlight a few products in my blog in each technological area which interested me:
3D Scanning :
Since my company implements Solidscape in India ( the most precise RP machine in the world), my primary objective of evaluating 3D Scanners was to have a complementary product to Solidscape in the area of jewelry, dental & engineering. I had actually carried with a small statue of Lord Krishna & Lord Ganesh to be scanned & i was looking forward to scan the statue so that i can directly get a very precise STL point cloud which i could print using the Solidscape R66+. The basic intention was to eliminate surface modeling since once we end up doing that especially for the jewelry models, then it is as good as making a model from scratch. So the point cloud had to be without noise & should capture all the features required for printing. I came across number of scanners but shortlisted 3 of them based on the price as well ( around 20,000 Euros ). The scanners i was evaluating was 3shape, Scansystems, I-metric & SmartOptics ( which i came to know at EuroMold through the Solidscape Turkey reseller).
My first visit was to the Smart Optics booth & i handed over the model to Dr Ralf Lampaizer - the Head of Development. His first reaction at looking at the model was " This is a complex model". I was pretty sure that this was a challenge for his scanner. Now SmartOptics had 2 models displayed at EuroMold, from their website i suppose the one which they recommended me was the Activity 91 scanner with a build volume of 200x200x150mm which they told me would cost 29,000 Euros. So we tried scanning the model & as expected we had to powder coat it since the model was absorbing all the light thrown by the projector. Although the scan was decent enough, it failed to capture all the minor details.
Further to this, i visited the Scansystems booth. At first impression, i thought that they would not be able to do the job but i had a visit to their office scheduled after the EuroMold to get the scanning done. At their office in Pisa, when i gave the model to be scanned, i was immediately impressed with the speed with which the scanner was capturing the data. In a single scan, the scanner was able to capture most of the geometry - the same geometry had to be scanned multiple times in SmartOptics to get the cloud. The only problem was that since in their dental scanner, 3d indexing was not available so we were not able to get the features at the bottom of the model. So, i left the model at the Scansystems office so that they can scan the same with the ScanProbe LT model which had to be calibrated for this model with the help of a calibration plate (i am still awaiting the point cloud, but i am sure it would be pretty good).
Regarding 3shape, unfortunately i was unable to scan the model at EuroMold because the first day, i was unable to get the model from my hotel & Mr Birk whom i had met had left on the next day. I took the model to their stall the next day, but one of their marketing managers refused to scan the model for me at the show.
Finally, for evaluating the I-metric scanner i visited their office in Courgenay close to Basel in Switzerland. The location of their office was extremely beautiful & my train ride from Milano to Basel was supercool & both me and my wife ( who accompanied me on my trip ) enjoyed the landscapes there. At the I-metric office, i met Damien & Horst Beyer & they introduced me to their IScan S series of scanner which is priced around $25,000/- & is suitable for dental & small sized models. Although the scanner was a little slow, i thought the scanner captured data more accurately but it had problems capturing fine features such as filigree on the statue. Also, the biggest problem was the alignment of scans since we had to manually align each & every scan by choosing points. But i was definitely impressed by the accuracy & the level of details it could capture. I still await the point cloud from them so that i could print it on Solidscape.

Going back to the technology at EuroMold, a couple of interesting products in the RP domain that caught my attention were the Rapman RP Machine. Now believe me or not, this RP machine costs just $900/- & can print fairly good parts.
Although, it makes me to wonder, just where is the RP industry heading. At one end, you have SLS technology with products starting from $2,00,000/- & at the other end, you have RapMan for $900/-. I also saw the Solido3d printer offering its printer for under 3000 Euros, it seems that they want to sell their printer to every engineering company in the world who would want to print their products just for visual inspection. Finally, another machine that caught my attention was the Huntsman new RP machine based on optical switches. The surface quality was better than SLA & i wonder how would they compete against their own customer - 3D Systems.
Finally, at the show i had the opportunity to meet Mr David Bothwell - the CEO of Solidscape Inc & i was immediately impressed by his intellect & level of technical knowledge. I also managed to spend some quality time with Fabio (VP-Worldwide Sales) & the Solidscape team at the Solidscape booth - the most precise & sophisticated RP machine available on the market which made me really proud that i was associated with such a technologically advanced product.

I am really looking forward to visit the next EuroMold as well!