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A Spectrum Z510 3D printer from Z Corporation is helping Hydroforming Design Light AB (HDL) make hydroforming more affordable and better suited to lower volume production runs.

HDL’s hydroforming process uses less pressure but compensates with innovative hydraulics and mechanical locks to achieve the same results.

Peter Alm, design manager and co-owner of HDL, said: ‘For the first time, a company can cost-effectively obtain high-quality hydroformed parts in quantities as low as 500 a year.’ HDL designs parts for its clients then uses hydroforming to make them, including exhaust pipes, bicycle frames and even designer furniture.

Although HDL is driving down the cost of the hydroforming process, the fabrication equipment still requires a considerable investment.

To overcome a customer’s scepticism, HDL must show them that the value of hydroforming is worth the additional up-front cost.

Alm analyses these relative benefits by running computer simulations of the hydroforming process and performing design analysis on hydroformed parts.

His Autoform software displays strengths and weaknesses in finished parts, information that helps his engineers to improve their designs.

During the first four years of the business, HDL would communicate this same analysis information to customers through Powerpoint presentations, a medium that requires customers to visualise a three-dimensional finished product from a 2D representation.

In February 2007, HDL purchased a 3D printer from Z Corporation.

A 3D printer is an output device for 3D data in the same way that a 2D printer is an output device for the words and pictures on a computer screen.

The main difference is that a 3D printer produces three-dimensional models and prototypes in composite material.

Z Corporation makes fast and multicolour 3D printers, essential attributes for HDL as its finite element analysis (FEA) results – in accordance with standard industry practice – are expressed in multiple colours.

For example, a bright red splotch on a part design indicates high stress or potential weakness, while a blue patch indicates low stress or part strength.

Since February, HDL has used the Spectrum Z510 to create 3D physical models of part designs in full colour, to demonstrate to customers exactly how their models are superior to stamped or drawn parts.

Creating 3D physical models has also enabled HDL to save time and money by ensuring parts fit correctly in tooling and part assemblies.

Alm said: ‘Because of our improved ability to communicate our value to customers and to eliminate errors in design and manufacturing, we’ve been able to shorten our design and production cycle by approximately 40 per cent.’

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