When it comes to high technology, it’s not uncommon even for those who understand early on the value and potential of a given advancement to fail to see the ultimate breadth of uses and applications that new technology eventually allows. Think smartphones and the mobile environment, for instance, or lasers or Internet protocol or even electricity.
Much the same goes for additive manufacturing. Just ask the design and engineering team at Trek Bicycle Corp. A few years back, when Trek was considering the purchase of an in-house 3D printer, the intent was to build prototype frames for wind tunnel and other testing. The company took a look at what it was paying each year to send out SLS (selective laser sintering) parts and saw the cost was approaching that of a new machine.
“It was the easiest justification I ever had in my life,” says Mike Zeigle, the company’s prototype laboratory manager.
Trek ended up purchasing a Stratasys Objet500 Connex printer. Fast forward a few years to today, and “we still do SLA frames outside,” says Zeigle. Trek might not send out as many frames as it used to because the company also bought a gantry-style, three-axis router. “We do a lot of our frames in ren board now,” he continues. “If it needs additional details or something, we will do an SLA frame.”