Rapid investment in complex designs

A UK company is using its rapid prototyping expertise to design masking components for a highly complex coating system for aircraft turbine blades. Dean Palmer reports

A UK company is using its rapid prototyping expertise to design masking components for a highly complex coating system for aircraft turbine blades and for a unique lighting project. Dan Palmer reports

"The use of rapid prototyping for this hi-tech project provided a quick and efficient method of producing well-defined samples in small quantities for use in the development stages," explained Malcolm Healey, technical director of Leicester-based investment casting firm Lestercast. "And it gave us a cost effective route to producing the final design and product," he continued.

The project Healey is referring to involved his company prototyping masking components for a company developing a highly complex coating machinery for aircraft turbine blades. The machine allows high temperature coatings to be applied to the blade surface to increase engine efficiency and provide fuel economies.

According to Healey, in many cases, complex designs and shapes, which otherwise would be almost impossible to manufacture through other methods, can be produced using rapid prototyping technology as part of the investment casting process. He told Eureka: "In the context of investment casting production, which uses a sacrificial wax pattern, the design and development stages for a new and particularly complex part can be costly in terms of time and money.

"The principle benefits of using rapid prototyping is the speed at which the solid model is generated and its ability to produce intricate three-dimensional shapes accurately from CAD drawings. In many cases, the use of rapid prototyping technology as part of the investment casting process provides the capability to achieve complex shapes that are impossible to make through other methods."

The company is also making strides in other industries. Healey also said that his company had also recently been involved in a unique lighting project which involved manufacturing a complex artistic shape for a lighting pendant in stainless steel that could only be produced by investment casting via the rapid prototyping process.

In recognition of the company's success in reducing time-to-market while protecting product quality, Lestercast won this year's Metalworking Production Award for "Best Subcontractor for Rapid Product Development". The award was presented by TV Motorsport personality Amanda Stretton at the Awards Dinner held at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel, which was organised in association with the recent Mach and Subcon 2004 exhibitions at the NEC.

Author
Tom Shelley

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