Automation is a hot topic in 3D printing these days, with SmarTech Analysis publishing the industry’s first report dedicated to the topic. However, we’re still in very early days both in regard to the development of automation technologies and their adoption. One small firm that is attempting to stay ahead of the curve is service bureau Midwest Prototyping. The company has recently installed automated product tracking and tracing packages from AM-Flow in its production facility in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.
Midwest Prototyping is a 3D printing service bureau with business locations in Wisconsin and Colorado that operate over 40 machines featuring six different types of additive manufacturing processes. Based on the technologies they offer, it seems as though the firm has attempted to adopt the newest equipment when possible. While Midwest Prototyping began with a single stereolithography (SLA) machine in 2001, it now offers Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) from HP, material extrusion from Essentium, digital light processing from Carbon, and large-scale SLA from RPS (now owned by Stratasys), among others.
For this reason, it’s not surprising that it is one of the first AM-Flow customers to adopt its AM-VISION and AM-SORT solutions. In fact, Midwest Prototypes was involved in an early investment round into the Dutch automation firm. These tools will allow the company to recognize, sort, and route printed items at a rate of just seconds per part.
According to AM-Flow, AM-VISION uses machine vision to recognize some 400 parts in less than 30 minutes, six times the volume possible manually. AM-SORT then directs these parts to the proper next stage in production using retractable conveyor belts. The company also offers a “Pay as you Grow” financing program so that customers can pay-per-part, lease the equipment, or outright buy it, depending on their monetary situation.
“Midwest Prototyping is one of those visionary companies that saw the need for workflow automation at a very early stage. Both to address efficiency, as well as to provide a better customer experience, opening up new demanding markets where process control is important for certification,” said Stefan Rink, CEO of AM-Flow.
Midwest Prototyping is already adopting other automation technologies, namely a PostPro3D and PostProDP Pro system from Additive Manufacturing Technologies. This equipment is for finishing selective laser sintering and MJF parts automatically. What makes all of this interesting is that this is a small firm with around 50 employees anticipating the future of AM and attempting to get ahead by investing in automation. This could be a good company to watch how this sort of technology could accelerate growth by increasing throughput and decreasing manual labor. If Midwest Prototyping becomes a huge name in a few years, we may know why.
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