By Cassandra Balentine
We’re just scratching the surface of the opportunities for three-dimensional (3D) printing in manufacturing. Moving beyond prototyping, a variety of 3D printing methods and materials are prime for parts production.
FORECAST 3D provides industrial 3D printing including short-run manufacturing and high-volume production services for prototypes and production parts. It is based in Carlsbad, CA with 155 employees and housed in 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space that is spread over three buildings adjacent to its headquarters.
The company is well versed in 3D printing, offering a variety of technologies including Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), stereolithography (SLA), PolyJet high-precision color 3D printing, CNC machining, ProCAST RTV tooling, and a 3D manufacturing center powered by HP Inc.’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) printing machines for high-volume 3D part production.
The 3D services company attracts a wide breadth of clientele, from aerospace and medical to design firms and even consumers. “Anything considered product development is a potential customer of ours, so we have a segmented go-to-market approach for our sales team,” offers Donovan Weber, co-owner, FORECAST 3D.
Above: FORECAST 3D of Carlsbad, CA employs a number of 3D printing technologies in a 60,000 square foot manufacturing space.
Ahead of its Time
Weber likens the company to a 25-year-old start up. FORECAST 3D began in 1994 when Donovan and his brother Corey began a prototyping business out of a garage when they were 19 and 24 years old, respectively.
A launching point came when a new type of material became available, an epoxy base resin, compatible with the SLA method of 3D printing. SLA technology permits an additive manufacturing process where light enables chemical monomers to form together and create polymers.
“Our first project was through a design firm for an aquarium filter part,” recalls Weber. They continued on the path of 3D modeling, making a name for themselves and creating pieces that traditional commercial component manufacturers couldn’t easily create. In the early years of its business, the brothers created a rubberized protective boot to be used in the Apple Newton—a precursor to the Apple iPad.
While the Apple Newton may have been too ahead of its time to take off, FORECAST 3D was nonetheless in a great position. “It was a different era. We were telling people something they didn’t know. It was called rapid prototyping back then, and it was becoming widely accepted in the mid 90s,” says Weber.
After offering SLA to start, the company expanded to SLS and CNC machining a few years later in 1998. From there, it added DMLS technology in 2007, followed by FDM and PolyJet in 2012. In 2017 it became the official West Coast Experience Center for MJF by HP, only a few months after the technology was announced by HP in 2016. It was quickly up to 12 machines, and today it operates a total of 26. These systems work 24/7, offering a build cycle time of about 14 to 16 hours depending on how tall the build is.
The amount of technologies offered is a stand-out difference in the 3D services space. With a selection of solutions the company matches the right technology to a specific job. “There are several ways to go about designing products. Because we’re not limited to one technology we can give our customers options based on each of their specific requirements,” admits Weber.
Quality is also of the essence, which includes appearance in addition to functionality. For aesthetics, FORECAST 3D uses urethane casting, which allows it to offer specific colors or textures.
Prototype to Production
The 3D printing landscape is evolving, and FORECAST 3D is at the forefront. Weber says in the beginning, its services were primarily prototype focused, but 3D production gained traction over the last decade.
The number of sets differs per job. Tens, 20s, and around a hundred is popular for a production series where customers are often exploring a market for research purposes. From here, some parts go into beta sites and even early test units.
HP’s MJF technology is essential to FORECAST 3D’s modern business model. It houses the largest install base. From a service perspective, the 3D service provider has capacity for production runs. It created nearly 2,000,000 parts last year, with orders primarily of a few hundred to a few thousand parts. For small production parts, FORECAST 3D often outruns injecting molding with HP MJF technology.
Based on powder bed fusion technology, HP MJF uses a heat source—in this case a thermal printhead—to form 3D objects of varying shapes from nylon powder-based material.
FORECAST 3D selected HP’s MJF technology because it was using a similar method and had a comfort level with manufacturing and selling this type of end part. However, HP’s MJF technology brought speed and lower costs. “We were able to go faster and less expensive with HP,” says Weber. The 3D service provider was actually instrumental in HP’s design. “Before the company brought the technology to market, we presented them with our market view and what we could do with the technology,” he continues.
“The fun part with HP MJF is that customers are going to full production, actually engineering products with additive manufacturing for its parts in mind,” adds Weber.
This is changing product manufacturing in countless ways, as engineers are no longer bound by the traditional rules of manufacturing. “Today’s engineers are rewriting the rule book,” shares Weber. For parts that used to require being separately produced and put together, they are created at one time on demand.
With HP MJF, Weber explains that you start with a build envelope and you can include as many parts under a certain density to produce in one build. “If you have one part of that whole height, the speed is the same. It will take a single pass and drop another coat of fresh powder,” he explains. “It’s very much designing each case uniquely. For example, for prototyping we do different parts day to day. On the production side, we segment runs separately and can tune certain characteristics. If there are just a few parts close together or too much heat in one zone, we can change it around. It’s just a matter of pre-production qualification for a build, and then it goes through quality control and you can subtly make changes. It’s a quick process and you’re getting feedback to see what results you’re getting.”
FORECAST 3D manufactures many parts. Of note is a part regularly produced for Singer Vehicle Design.
Singer Vehicle Design is owned and operated by an ex-car designer, Rob Dickinson. The company restores and reimagines 1989 to 1994 Porsche 911s for its clients. It is important to note that Singer Vehicle Design does not manufacture or sell automobiles.
To help in the restoration process, Singer Vehicle Design employs FORECAST 3D’s additive manufacturing capabilities to produce parts throughout the car. The company restores about five Porsches per month and relies on just-in-time manufacturing and delivery. “This avoids warehousing the product, keeping on hand what is necessary for the build. It’s lean manufacturing that allows engineers to rev up the design,” says Weber.
From its humble beginnings, FORECAST 3D has become a leader in 3D printing. From automotive to medical, its 3D output is used in a variety of industries in the form of prototypes and parts production. It uses its knowledge across a variety of popular 3D printing processes and materials to help other businesses improve manufacturing with the help of this disruptive technology.
Nov2019, Industrial Print Magazine