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Direct metal laser-sintering makes a speedy delivery.

Rapid prototyping often can help a metalcasting facility or its customer out of a project ramp-up jam. For instance, diecasting is a prime manufacturing choice for many end-users looking for something cost-effective and productive. However, the time to build the tooling for a new part may be a disadvantage for customers who need a physical model right away. Accomodating your customer with a fast prototype, built either in-house or contracted through a prototyping company, could help secure business for your casting facility.

For example, a supplier of realtor lockboxes, SentriLock LLC, Cincinnati, knew it wanted to use diecasting as its manufacturing method, but before high volume production could start, the company needed a quick prototype to show at an upcoming conference and expo.

SentriLock's realtor lockbox safeguards a housekey to give real estate agents controlled access to listed properties. Unlike its mechanical predecessors, the lock product provides access with a smart card that ensures frequent changes to the access code. The company wanted to be able to show realtors at the conference a prototype that would be representative of the production diecast part.

"A product such as this must have credible physical security," said Greg Morris, COO of Morris Technologies, Cincinnati. "There is no way that realtors would have taken painted, plastic parts seriously. We had to produce a product that communicated strength and protection."

Morris Technologies was challenged to design and prototype the lockbox's eight diecast parts in time for the conference and expo. The assembly consisted of a two-piece outer housing, access covers and supporting pieces. When assembled, the lockbox was 10 in. long, 5 in. wide and 2.5 in. deep.

"There are features on the lockbox, such its deep channels and ribs with no fillets, that made it a tough lob for machining, especially in the timeframe we were given," said Morris.

In light of the constraints on the project, the firm elected to use direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS) from EOS, Krailling, Germany, rather than its CNC machining centers. DMLS systems build parts one layer at a time by laser-sintering powdered metal alloys to produce fully dense parts without secondary infiltration. Also, DMLS utilizes 20 micron powder, which allows building with very thin layers, resulting in parts with a smooth surface.

Morris Technologies nested the eight-piece assembly so that all components could be built in one run of the machine. The automated and unattended process took only 53 hours. including part programming, Morris estimated that CNC machining would have taken 10 days, which would have been one full week more than the firm had for the entire project.

Once full production began at the diecasting facility, the lockbox firm sold more than 100,000 units.

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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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