South Kingstown native Justin Coutu is the general manager of R& D Technologies Inc.
R&D Technologies Inc., located in the Quonset Business Park, is a reseller of Objet Geometries Ltd.’s full line of 3D-printing systems for high resolution, multi-material rapid prototyping, serving the manufacturing, consumer product, medical, education, defense and industrial markets throughout New England.
PBN: Can you describe the technology behind a 3D Printer?
COUTU:While the technology behind a 3D printer is very complex and the machines are highly engineered, the process is very simple. Much like an inkjet printer which has several print heads that jet ink onto paper, the technology in our Objet Geometries Ltd. 3D printers jets liquid polymer (known as resin) through hundreds of tiny holes in print heads. The resin is jetted onto a steel-built tray, which lowers as the part gets taller. As the print heads layer the resin, it’s rolled very thin as it is cured with a constant passing UV light. The layer thickness can run anywhere from 30 microns to 16 microns which is what gives our technology such amazing resolution, surface quality and accuracy.
Objet printers use a support material to fill in areas where there is an open space in the design. Because you can’t build on thin air, this material supports each layer of the model as it’s being printed. The turnaround time for prototype production using our printers is quite fast. Very little post-processing is needed since all you have to do is remove the support material using a high-pressured water jet once the part is printed.
R&D Technologies Inc. is a reseller of Objet Geometries’ full line of 3D printers including the Desktop, Eden and Connex machines throughout New England. The Connex printer is the most technologically advanced because of a polyjet matrix feature that enables the composite of two different materials together. For example, compositing a flexible material with a rigid material can generate different shore values to create overmolding, living hinges and coatings. We also serve as a ‘service bureau’ to companies throughout the U.S. who don’t own a printer in-house and wish to outsource their prototype printing to us.
PBN: According to your website, you’ve been in the 3D Printing industry since the early 2000s, how has the industry (and the technology) shifted in that time?
COUTU:The 3D printing industry relies on the ability to create a 3D model using a 3D design software program. During the early 2000s, 3D design software was starting to become mainstream, but not every engineering office had made the switch from 2D to 3D software. Many engineers were not accustomed to having their prototypes printed in 3D, and the few engineers who were typically sent their files to outside vendors. The resulting prototypes were very costly and the materials were brittle. The prototypes were often used as a final check at the end of the design process, and the main goal of the prototype was to avoid costly mistakes before the manufacturing process began.
Today, nearly every engineer is designing in 3D and the material choices have increased tremendously, with more than 107 options available for Objet printers alone. At R&D we are also seeing a trend toward bringing 3D printing in-house, so engineers are able to utilize the technology to print as many revisions of their design as necessary. The prototypes are not only used to avoid mistakes before manufacturing, but are used at every stage of the design and manufacturing process – from concept to beta to testing to market. Prototypes are often used internally as a communication tool between the engineering, sales and marketing departments. A shift toward bringing 3D printing in-house is significantly reducing the time-to-market for new products. A design engineer or marketing professional could get an idea for a new product in the morning, print the prototype within a few hours, and present it to a client that afternoon to make the sale! Our technology can make a product come to life vs. simply looking at a 3D rendering on paper. It’s amazing, really.
PBN: What made you pick this industry and start R&D Technologies?
COUTU:For us, 3D printing was the next logical step in the automation of the design and manufacturing process and we wanted to be a part of this. If America is to compete with offshore manufacturing, companies need to be ‘lean and mean.’ With 3D rapid prototyping, companies can validate their designs before sending them out for tooling. This shortens the time to market and helps make products faster, better, cheaper. Part of the validation process involves focus groups, form, fit and function testing, and customer approvals before going forward with the project. But the main reason we decided to get into the 3D rapid prototyping business has to do with a survey we took years ago when our company was a SolidWorks software reseller. We asked engineers if they would like a 3D printer on their desk and everyone said, “yes.”
PBN: In what industries are 3D printers particularly popular?
COUTU:Some of the industries that find uses for our 3D printers include defense, medical, manufacturing and architecture. We have printed everything from rifle scopes and medical endoscopes, to exact replicas of houses that are being designed for construction. Surgeons have made a model of the heads of conjoined twins, practiced operating on the prototype and then performed the actual surgery successfully. Golf ball manufacturers have designed prototypes of golf balls with varying array patterns, had us print them and tested their trajectories before manufacturing them for market. The use of 3D rapid prototyping has given companies the ability to move from concept to beta faster with less cost, thus allowing them to grow revenues because they’re creating a better, more innovative product more efficiently.
R&D Technologies’ prototypes provide form, fit and function testing as well as visual inspection capabilities to allow for faster and more accurate models to be built for production. Since these parts are so successful and helpful to our clients’ developmental process, many of our customers have been with us from the start and continue to use our technology anytime 3D printing is needed.
PBN: What is the most interesting/exciting model or prototype you have made?
COUTU:The nature of prototyping is that many companies use it to test if their design will be effective for use in or as the final product. Because R&D Technologies can act as an outsourced 3D rapid prototyping vendor, we are required to keep some end-use information confidential for our clients. We have built hundreds of interesting and exciting parts over the years, however we are not always at liberty to discuss them and sometimes we are not privy to know what the end use will be.
One of the most interesting prototypes we’ve made is a complete console and joystick assembly for a local company that makes underwater exploration vehicles that were used during the BP oil spill catastrophe. This prototype was used as a working part inside the vehicle. We built it using VeroBlack rigid acrylic material along with a digital material composite on our Objet Connex500 Machine. The assembly, with all of the text and holes for the fixtures and lights, was complete once they installed wires and harnesses. It was really an awesome sight to see the finished product knowing it came straight off our machine with no post-processing work, especially since the part was put to such important and critical use.