We have frequently reported on the potentially disruptive nature of 3D printing in relation to conventional manufacturing technologies, and one more example just landed in the PlasticsToday inbox. Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH (Brannenburg, Germany), a manufacturer of bodices, swimwear and breast prostheses, is using a 3D printer from German RepRap (Feldkirchen, Germany) to produce molds for breast forms. By using this technology for product and tooling development, the company reportedly was able to slash development costs in half.
Traditionally, a wooden template was used to create a fiber-glass prototype, says the company. This was then mirrored in a manual process that took 14 days to create an aluminum mould into which the silicone is poured. However, "the two sides of the mold were never absolutely identical," explains Georg Weber-Unger, Managing Director. Now, Anita Dr. Helbig creates the mold using CAD software, which instantly mirrors and prints the form. The original aluminum mold is 3D scanned, and the images are stitched together and then touched up within the software. The printer software, called Slicer, converts the CAD files into the G-code format readable by the 3D printer. Within a few hours, a positive copy of the tool has been printed.