The machines each have their own name, Thomas will be at TCT Show.
The drive from TCT Towers in Chester south to the headquarters of RP Support (now known as RPS) in Aylesbury should be a straight motorway run but this being Britain and me being impatient, highway traffic forced me onto the country’s A roads. It is perhaps the most quintessentially English drive I have ever experienced, through five of the shires, spotting the odd Stately Home here, a castle there. All very apt seeing as I was going to see the first industrial 3D printing machine designed, developed and manufactured in the UK. Not that I knew it at the time...
TCT was invited down to RPS after signing a non-disclosure agreement, something we’re used to in this industry but normally from machine manufacturers with a new machine or service bureaux with an exclusive customer case study. Not normally by companies, like RPS, who have built up a reputation as reliable sellers and support for industrial machinery and materials.
“We're four years into development and very few people knew what was going on,” RPS Director, David Storey tells me. “In December 2011, we sat round a table and decided to build a machine. Steve (Steve Moran an RPS Director) had always wanted to build a machine and I decided I didn’t want RPS to only be known as a support provider, we know there’s a market and we had the right people to do something special.”
That something special is the NEOS 800 professional stereolithography machine and its whopping 800 x 800 x 600 mm manufacturing platform with an open resin system that has been proven over a 12 month pilot scheme in a qualified manufacturing environment. There’s no gimmicks in sight, this is a solid machine built by people with decades of experience and the devil very much is in the detail.
“The paint selection alone took about three months,” explains David. “You wouldn't believe the amount of discussions that come over a paint finish but that comes from the heart, that comes from people who really care about what they are making. The paint was finally picked in McDonalds in Milton Keynes, not for the colour but for resistance to resin and that is proprietary to us. It's taken us a lot of effort to get to that point and get the finish we want.”
Titanium Software built from scratch by RPS Engineers.
The paint finish is perhaps not the first feature one thinks of when picking a machine to manufacture aerospace, automotive or other industrial parts with but RPS are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the user experience is a good one. Take the software for instance, built from scratch by RPS engineers, ‘Titanium’ is designed to work with Windows 10 and takes many of its themes from the easy-to-use tiled display of the Microsoft operating system. The team dedicated a huge amount of time and research into avoiding the downfalls of other 3D printing software, the workflow is logical and the user is able to change the build parameters while the machine is building, it will send you an email once the job is finished complete with a photo of the print.
Being a company that has serviced, supported and repaired all kinds of 3D printing technology over the years gave RPS the advantage of building from scratch with foresight learned from the hindsight of others.
“We know what works and what fails,” says David. “For instance our machine is modular so that it fits through a standard door frame and the modules can be moved using a standard pallet truck. There’s nothing worse than having to take apart a doorframe because somebody hasn’t measured properly, and believe me that is not an irregular occurrence!”
Machine Made in Britain
NEOS 800 will make its debut at TCT Show in September (Stand C18) in Birmingham just 70 miles north of where the hardware and software has been designed from the ground up by a small but dedicated team of experts with a combined 85 years of experience in 3D printing.
“We've tried to source all the parts locally,” says David “80 per cent of its components are made in the UK but British lasers and scanners are simply not up to our standards.”
The NEOS 800 is being built in-house at RPS UK HQ.
Everything on the system has been thought through with meticulous detail, from that impenetrable paint to the accessible electronics board at the back, each of those details combined adds up to exceptional part quality. And that’s the end game, part quality, RPS has created a system so accurate that post-processing times are minimal no matter how big or small the part is.
“We've got a lot invested in this and not just money,” explains David. “Time, effort and a reputation for quality but there's a huge reward in actually making something, actually being able to say this design is ours. And as a machine manufacturer if somebody comes to me with a material they specifically want to use, we can adapt the machine to suit. If somebody says 'can you change the laser wavelength?' we can integrate a different laser.”
Whilst sitting on snaking A roads packed with tractors holding up traffic, I had wondered whether this trip to RPS was going to be a worthwhile, I had guessed that I was going to see a machine that I’d already seen abroad at a trade show. But what I got to see was something quite unique; a quality additive manufacturing device made right here in Britain.
RPS will exhibit on stand C18 at TCT Show 2016 on 28-29th September at NEC, Birmingham. Register for FREE to attend.