CARLSBAD, Calif.—Prototype and batch-production specialist Forecast 3D invested about $3 million during 2017, mostly for Multi-Jet Fusion equipment from HP Inc.
Forecast 3D has "the world's largest MJF production facility," President and CEO Corey Weber said in an office interview.
Brothers Corey and Donovan Weber co-founded, own and manage the business of Carlsbad-based Product Slingshot Inc. doing business as Forecast 3D. Donovan Weber is chief operating officer.
"MJF is exciting and brings real change to manufacturing," Corey Weber said. After only a few months, "MJF now represents 20 percent of our business."
Weber characterized Forecast 3D as "the oldest rapid prototype service bureau in the country." Industry consolidation in recent years has placed numerous competing bureaus under the ownership of larger organizations.
Forecast 3D took delivery of its first two Singapore-manufactured MJF machines from HP in April and, subsequently, added 10 more units. Weber said each of the 12 MJF printers cost about $155,000. Each of five MJF processing stations was $60,000, and 28 MJF-built units cost $15,000 each.
With MJF, "the revision process can be lightning fast," Weber said. "It is amazing to do in a production process."
The company says it became the official West Coast Experience Center for MJF by HP in June.
Apart from the MJF work, the company's other technologies by volume include fused deposition modeling, stereolithography apparatus, direct metal laser sintering, computer numerical control machining and PolyJet 3D printing.
At one time, Forecast 3D handled selective laser sintering in-house but outsources that SLS work now.
3D printing is moving toward uses for production rather than sticking with prototype applications.
"It makes sense and is advantageous for smaller parts in the 10s of thousands," Weber said.
A key value is shortening the time to market.
As needed, Forecast 3D can turn out product in a week vs. the three months necessary for a traditional mold building, verification and production process, Weber said.
Part consolidation is another benefit of 3D printing.
Design flexibility means an end product can perform better. "It can have lighter weight and better strength," Weber said.
Historically, most of Forecast 3D's production has involved thermoset resins with an emphasis on liquid silicone rubber.
"Now, we are getting into thermoplastics," Weber said.
Currently, Forecast 3D's largest resin use by volume involves the casting of polyurethane using SLA and FDM technologies for master patterns.
The next largest by volume is nylon 12, the first HP introduction for the latest equipment.
HP's Advanced Composites unit in Vancouver, Wash., is planning to commercially introduce 3D nylon 11 and 3D nylon 12 glass beads, both in high reusability forms for producing low-cost high-quality functional parts.
Also, HP plans to offer a 3D high reusability polypropylene as a durable low-cost material.
Earlier in 2017, Stratasys Ltd. of Rehovot, Israel, and Eden Prairie, Minn., introduced a 35-percent-carbon-filled nylon 12CF for FDM processing.
Weber anticipates eventual use of other resins including elastomers for shoe insoles and gaskets.
The Webers began creating silicone tooling in 1990, prototyped a vacuum mixing chamber in 1994, acquired their first SLA machine in 1996 and then developed a manufacturing-focused model shop, all in early Carlsbad locations.
Their paternal grandfather, Mark (Bud) Weber, a Detroit machinist, served as an early creative inspiration.
The brothers started Forecast 3D in 1994 and, in 2002, purchased the 28,000-sq.-ft. facility now serving as headquarters and the site for some three-dimensional printing capability.
In 2016, they leased and outfitted a nearby 21,000 square feet. Operations there for the new 3D manufacturing center for additive production started in early 2017.
Forecast 3D is certified under ISO9001:2008 and registered as compliant under the Defense Trade Regulations. The company is on track to become certified under AS9100D and ISO9001:2015 by mid-February, and Forecast 3D targets achieving ISO13485 during 2018.
Forecast 3D employs 107 and operates more than 30 pieces of additive and subtractive manufacturing equipment. It anticipates 2017 sales will exceed $14 million. The previous year was about $13 million.