A Tennessee 3D printing startup is targeting a very specific production niche: cast plastic and metal parts in the 100 to 1000 volume range.
Collider Tech of Chattanooga, Tennessee, developed a 3D printer based on DLP lithography to produce “molds” made of photopolymer plastics that include “injection pipes” that perform like runners in an injection mold. The molds are then filled with casting plastics or metal which cure in the machine. The pieces are then moved to a water bath where the mold casing and pipes are removed.
The process competes primarily against parts cast in silicon molds, and is said to have a cost advantage. I would assume that’s a cost advantage if you have to make a lot of different small-run cast parts over several years because you have to amortize the cost of the machine, which has not been disclosed. In some situations, the process may also compete against short run production services such as ProtoLabs, which uses aluminum molds to make parts from conventional thermoplastics.
The production materials are urethane rubber, silicone, rigid polyurethane and flame-resistant polyurethane. The rigid PU could be used to make mechanical parts and the FR PU could be used to make interior aircraft parts.
The DLP process uses a digital projector screen to create a single image of each layer across a platform. Compared to the better known SLA process, DLP can achieve faster print times for some parts, as each entire layer is exposed at once. SLA can achieve tighter tolerances.
Build volume is 355 mm X 304 mm X 203 mm. Build speed is 36 cm/hour.
Machine shipments are still a year off, but beta manufacturing can be conducted at the company’s Chattanooga site. The process can also be used to make stainless steel and copper (heat sinks and custom valves) parts.