New rapid prototyper `ten times quicker’ than existing systems

A rapid prototyping process that builds up solid 3D models from layers of cellulose powder and liquid binder is proving to be up to 10 times quicker than comparable systems in applications ranging from new designs of mobile phones to car engines.

Developed by US company Z-Corporation, the Z402 Concept Modeller creates models directly from CAD files by spreading fine layers of cellulose powder 0.1-0.2mm thick onto a movable platen. Each layer is then sprayed with binder from a programmable spray head containing 128 tiny nozzles, similar to an inkjet printer. The liquid is only sprayed on the cellulose powder where solid material is required according to the CAD data.

Once the spraying is finished, the platen is lowered and the next layer of powder spread over, ready for the process to be repeated. Models can be built up very quickly at depths of 50mm an hour.

The completed model is dusted to remove unfused powder and given a coat of epoxy resin to increase its strength.

Engineers at the mobile phone division of Motorola are using the process to design, model and revise new phones in a day. And a leading car manufacturer can now produce a model of an engine cylinder block and two cylinder heads in just over eight hours.

The machine is available in the UK from Umak of Solihull.

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