Interview with FastRadius CTO Dr. Bill King

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Fast Radius is a Chicago based 3D printing company that has a production location at UPS Worldport. This combined with a partnership with UPS means that Fas tRadius is closer to every business in the world than you are. For UPS Fast Radius is a key proof point that it can hold up to investors showcasing that rather than 3D printing being a threat UPS can leverage it to their advantage. Fast Radius has HP Multijet Fusion, Carbon CLIP and also offers metal printing, CNC and other manufacturing services. In addition to 3D printing on demand Fast Radius also helps companies new to 3D printing with design and application development services to help them get parts made. Can Fast Radius take the battle to the existing service bureaus? Chief Scientist Dr. Bill King seems to think so. A Professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he runs the nanoengineering lab he has published widely, mostly on nanoscale manufacturing. His recent paper on 3D printing with lattice structures suggests that lattices are a key advantage to 3D printing and well worth exploring for all sorts of manufacturing applications.

What is FastRadius? 

Fast Radius is a leading provider of additive manufacturing solutions, including application discovery, product design and testing, production-grade manufacturing and global fulfillment. Fast Radius is headquartered in Chicago, with offices in Atlanta, Ga and Singapore, as well as a production hub on-site at the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky. 

Why should I work with FastRadius? 

In September 2018, Fast Radius was named as one of the nine best factories in the world by the World Economic Forum (WEF), implementing “technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the only award recipient from North America. These “manufacturing lighthouses” were chosen by the WEF to form a new network of industry innovators that are embracing and deploying advanced manufacturing technologies at scale.

What do you do for customers? 

 Fast Radius brings the future of manufacturing and the supply chain to its clients. Fast Radius’ technology platform and team of engineers help clients unlock value from additive manufacturing across a product’s lifecycle, from entirely new products to global supply chain solutions leveraging a virtual warehouse. The platform supports clients in identifying potential applications, conducting engineering and economic evaluations, accelerating new product development, and ultimately manufacturing industrial-grade parts at scale with the latest additive technologies.

For example, Fast Radius worked with Steelcase to design, engineer and print a custom arm cap for its award-winning SILQ office chair, using additive manufacturing processes to align the design of the chair with human physiology. Steelcase engaged Fast Radius and to explore how additive manufacturing could improve the product development process and differentiate its products in the market, while also greatly reducing the time it took to bring the product to life. The additive manufacturing process streamlined the already-unique aesthetics of the chair with a lattice structure that also condensed three parts into one

What is a lattice structure? 

A lattice structure is a mechanical structure that consists of a collection of thin struts, organized into a specific geometry that results in a Strong and lightweight structure.

Hexagonal lattices 3D printed using CLIP in four different materials (L-R): EPX, CE, RPU, and FPU at relative densities of 0.06, 0.12, 0.12, and 0.23 respectively.

Why are they so important?

Lattice structures are important for two reasons. First, they allow a designer to remove material and weight from a mechanical design, without removing strength. Second, lattice materials are much easier to make with additive manufacturing than with traditional manufacturing techniques. So it is only through recent improvements in additive manufacturing that engineers can really take advantage of lattice structures for real engineering designs.

I’ve always thought that the lattice structures used in FDM for infill were a bit random and not optimized? 

“That’s correct. Those structures are not optimized at all. It takes some engineering design to create optimized lattices.”

Why would I want to make things out of lattices?

“I think a better question is why wouldn’t you make things out of lattices? You can remove weight and material while maintaining strength and structural integrity. You can save money by using less material and speeding up the actual printing.”

What are some weight savings that I could get? 

The weight savings depends not the specific application requirements and the material being used, from which we can design the best lattice structure. But here is a good rule of thumb:Starting with a fully solid design, you could remove two-thirds of the weight while reducing the strength by less than half.

Post compression samples in RPU and EPX.

Could I also optimize lattices to make objects softer, springy-er? 

Yes absolutely. And this highlights one of the very exciting opportunities that no one has really exploited yet, which is lattice structures made from additively manufactured elastomers (polymers with rubber-like elasticity.) You can tailor the springiness to be just about anything you could want. This is going to really matter for anything that application that uses foam today like sports equipment, wearables, and personal protection gear.

One thing I really like is dynamic infill which can be based on a scan that can then make an insole for example not only form fitting but also have variable density. Do you see this having implications outside of insoles? 

“We can tailor a lattice to provide a specific mechanical compliance or spring constant, strength, and density. This has implications for any application that uses load-bearing mechanical parts.”

Do you see lattices as being the future of 3D printed construction and similar large parts? 

“Lattices are already used in building construction and aircraft components. These structures are all around us. What is new is that you can very easily use them in a production environment with additive manufacturing.”

Why did you use CLIP for your research?

Previously published research reports on additively manufactured lattice structures have focused on a small number of printed parts. We wanted to show that you can actually make a lot of parts and what are the statistics and trends across these parts. CLIP is a production-ready additive manufacturing technology and a natural candidate for showing how to take lattice structures into production.

What’s CLIP like as a production technology?

“CLIP is fast and the materials are very good. CLIP has tolerances, feature sizes, and surface finish that is equal to or better than injection molding. All of these attributes make CLIP a very compelling additive manufacturing technology.”

How do you do QA for 3D printed parts? 

“It takes special expertise to qualify additively manufactured parts. Fast Radius has an industrial grade quality system that meets AS9100D and ISO9001:2015 standards. For complex parts like lattice parts, we create a sampling plan that accounts for the part complexity, and we use automated inspection equipment to gather a significant amount of geometric data.”

It strikes me that there is way too much manual labor in 3D printing? 

“The major labor input is the expertise required to design for additive, to manage production, and to qualify the parts. This is not an unusual situation – for any technology-intensive manufacturing, the knowledge work is the biggest factor.” 

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