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A Formiga P100 plastic laser sintering machine supplied by EOS is helping to produce fine, cloth-like textile structures at DeMontfort University in Leicester.

The system can produce exact replicas of computer-aided-design (CAD) models by selectively fusing successive, 100-micron layers of fine nylon powder (EOS PA2200 polyamide).

Dr Guy Bingham, senior lecturer in industrial design at the university, secured a capital research grant to purchase the system in August 2009.

Bingham is now an active member of two research groups at DeMontfort University: Prof David Wimpenny’s Additive Manufacturing Technology Group (AMTG) and the New Product Development Centre (NPDC) led by reader Peter Ford.

The industrial design activities span the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Art and Design, supporting not only research and development but also undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

The NPDC, affiliated to the Midlands Advisory Service, is in contact with around 250 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Midlands, helping them to bring their products to market faster and more efficiently.

Other activities involve the production of digital art in collaboration with Lionel Dean (Future Factories) and Prof Martin Reiser and manufacturing futuristic structures that cannot be made by any method other than computer-aided generation and additive manufacturing techniques.

Bingham said: ‘The laser sintering of powders is undoubtedly the best additive manufacturing process for producing parts that are both highly complex and functional.

‘In my particular specialism, textile structures, it is the only way to increase the resolution and complexity of structures without breaking them after they come out of the machine.

‘This is because laser-sintered plastic parts do not require support structures, removal of which can easily destroy the fine links that form the structure of our latest textiles,’ he added.

Bingham said that self-supporting build strategies give designers freedom when creating and building new designs.

In contrast, even a couple of years ago the norm was a relatively thick textile with a single repeating link structure; a step-change in complexity has seen the emergence of structures down to 0.6mm in thickness, comprising a core structure and a complicated network of substructures.

The end result closely mimics lace.

To take the designs further, metallic finishes are being applied to the plastic, such as nanocrystalline copper and silver plating.

The entry-level Formiga P100 has a compact footprint, stands 195cm high and has a build envelope of 200 x 250 x 330mm.

It can build vertical walls of high surface quality.

The fine focus diameter of the laser enables thin-wall structures to be created.

Dispensing and recoating has been redesigned to increase product quality and reduce powder consumption.

Some 23 parts of the Formiga P100 itself have been laser sintered, from the filling hopper for the plastic powder to the switch cover.

EOS Electro Optical Systems

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