Increasingly, companies are realizing greater manufacturing flexibility by embracing a Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) strategy during production. DDM is a process that uses enterprise-level additive technologies and materials to produce end-use parts. Choosing this approach comes with many benefits, including risk mitigation, faster speeds, greater geometry complexity in a single part, mass customization, lower capital tooling costs, and higher value problem-solving.
The leaders of VRstudios, an innovative company specializing in virtual reality products, took a DDM strategy to meet its need for high-value, low-volume production parts. Its gaming product, VRcade, can be found in arcades such as Dave & Buster’s and theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm. In this featured customer story, learn more about the company, its range of products, and how additive technologies are a proven means of production for just-in-time inventory.
“As I grew my business, 3D printing components allowed me to maintain flexibility and keep cost down so much that I’m quite confident I would have gone out of business if the option had not been available.” —Mark Haverstock, VRstudios
Going Into Production—VRstudios’ Virtual Reality Headset
VRstudios’ flagship product is a completely wireless VR headset device that crosses gaming, training, and many other commercial applications. The VRcade version is a gaming-focused system that incorporates a number of uniquely complex components that were proven out during product development using 3D printed prototypes. For example, going into production for the battery pack by way of tooling and injection molding would mean major design changes that increased part count and assembly time. In addition, tooling up wasn’t a cost-friendly option for VRstudio’s lower volume, more frequent production needs. The VRstudios team preferred to fabricate on-demand instead of locking into one design, and did not want to manage inventory between installations.
Choosing Additive Manufacturing for Production Parts
To lower production costs, protect design intent, and achieve a greater degree of agility in filling orders and managing inventory, VRstudios opted to produce many components of their VRcade headsets using FDM-based 3D printing. After fabricating dozens of design iterations using a variety of additive technologies, VRstudios chose to use FDM for some its end-use parts because of its high thermodynamic material options, durability, and cost-effectiveness. To create 20 units of the VRcade battery pack, for example, 3D printing the assembly costs approximately $130 per unit, while injection molding would cost more than $800 per unit.
While VRstudios continues to leverage FATHOM’s advanced manufacturing services, the company purchased an FDM-based system by Stratasys from FATHOM to lower costs even further by bringing digital manufacturing in-house.
The Opportunity with Direct Digital Manufacturing
An assembly composed of several components and hardware can now be reproduced as a single part using digital manufacturing technologies. Traditional manufacturing has many constraints on geometry, resulting in products with numerous part counts to achieve the features necessary. For injection molding, this includes elements like drafts and undercuts. CNC machining and urethane casting have similar limitations, too. Combining parts together can result in complex overhangs, channels, and unreachable regions, but these create no challenge for additive. One of the greatest benefits of assembly unification is that hardware assembly is avoided.
For VRstudios, the team could move forward the way they wanted by opting to 3D print parts instead of tooling up. Using FDM for their two-part battery pack assembly, the company avoided complex injection mold tooling costs for what would have been at least a four-part enclosure. In addition to preserving design intent, VRstudios gained agility, suddenly being able to make design changes at any time because of on-demand production. Taking a DDM approach freed the company from costly tool changes, extended assembly time, additional hardware, extensive inventory management, and traditional manufacturing constraints.
With its first product quickly achieving commercial success, VRstudios is continuing to innovate, using 3D printing at every stage of its product development process. For more information on VRstudios, visit their website at www.vrstudios.com.
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