Date Visited: 12 December 1995
JTEC/WTEC Attendees: C. Atwood (report author), P. Fussell, E. Sachs, M. Wozny
INCS is the oldest and largest service bureau in Japan. It was founded in 1990 by its president Shinjiro Yamada. In 1990 when INCS opened for business, it had 5 employees. As of December 1995, it employed 26 people (14 in engineering, 5 in system development, and 7 in sales and management). INCS' first rapid prototyping machine (3D Systems SLA-250) was installed in December 1990. At the time of the JTEC/WTEC visit, it had 3 SLA-250 machines, 2 SLA-500 machines, 6 Silicon Graphics workstations, 2 Sun Spark workstations, 4 IBM RS6000 systems, and 15 personal computers. In addition, the company uses CADDS5, CATIA, ProEngineer, Ideas, and Camtool solid modeling software.
INCS is the sole Japanese distributor of 3D System's stereolithography machines and Ciba Tool resins. INCS estimates that it has 60% of the Japanese rapid prototyping market. It has experienced steady economic growth since its inception. In 1991, gross sales were ¥105 million. In 1995, the forecast was for ¥820 million in total revenue. INCS' customer base is diverse: 30% of its work comes from electronics industries, 23% from automotive, 13% from household appliances, 6% from medical, 5% from aerospace, and the remainder (23%) from other industries. INCS estimates the Japanese service bureau market is growing 200% per year.
As a traditional service bureau, INCS uses 3D Systems' stereolithography equipment to fabricate prototype parts. Stereolithography is the oldest and most mature rapid prototyping process, commercialized in 1988. With two SLA-500 and three SLA-250 machines, INCS has significant capacity to manufacture prototype parts. In addition to its RP capabilities, it offers other engineering services, including CAD Modeling, Numerical Control (NC) machining, Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM), engineering consulting, and software development. INCS typically fabricates several parts per build to utilize the maximum capacity of its machines. Machines are normally operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Due to its heavy workload, INCS added two new stereolithography machines in September 1995. INCS uses only CibaTool 5170 and 5180 epoxy resins to fabricate parts and QuickCastTM patterns. It currently fabricates 250 to 300 parts per month. Part finishing is accomplished using hand sanding and small electronic and pneumatic sanding and cutting tools.
The primary application for INCS' rapid prototyping processes is the fabrication of design verification models. This accounts for approximately 56% of its RP work.
The fabrication of patterns for use in the vacuum casting process accounts for 22% of INCS' RP work. In the vacuum casting process, a stereolithography pattern is used to make a silicon rubber or epoxy mold. The mold is then placed in a vacuum chamber, and the part material is injected into the mold.
INCS began using QuickCastTM (to make patterns for investment casting) in 1993. QuickCastTM is a stereolithography build style that fabricates patterns that have three outer layers and an internal lattice structure for support. The overall density is less than 30%. When used as a pattern for investment casting, the QuickCastTM pattern facilitates the burn-out process by permitting internal expansion, which significantly reduces the stress on the ceramic mold. Fabricating QuickCastTM patterns accounts for 15% of INCS' RP work. There are currently four or five foundries in Japan that are qualified to cast QuickCastTM patterns. It typically takes several tries for a foundry to learn to successfully cast RP patterns. Investment casting in Japan is a $600 million industry.
Although the rapid tooling application is only a small percentage (7%) of the RP work at INCS, the metal parts shown to the JTEC/WTEC team were very impressive. INCS fabricates small, precision QuickCast patterns, then uses the plaster casting process to get to a net shape precision metal (copper or steel) part. It can fabricate small tooling inserts and deliver finished injection molded parts in one week. In 1995, the world tooling market was $14 billion. Japan's share of the world tooling market is 48%. The U.S. share is 24%.
INCS has a software development program that translates medical computed tomography (CT) scan data into a usable STL computer model. CT scan data is typically spaced 1 mm apart, and the software INCS is developing interpolates and smoothes the STL computer model. One application is to fabricate stereolithography models of skulls used in maxial facial reconstructive surgery. INCS currently has a government-funded project working with 5 hospitals in Japan to integrate these techniques into the surgical process. The cost of medical stereolithography models is not covered by insurance in Japan. The cost of one skull model is approximately ¥500,000.
See Medical applications and Figures INCS.1 and INCS.2.
The primary competition for the rapid prototyping industry in Japan is the machine tool industry. In many cases, parts can be fabricated faster and with more accuracy using NC machining centers. Tooling is considered the primary application for rapid prototyping, but the accuracy and surface finish must improve to be able to compete with NC machining. Accuracy requirements must be less than .1 mm to satisfy the Japanese tooling market. Smaller precision tooling accuracy requirements are .02 mm to .03 mm. Mr. Yamada estimates that only 3% of design engineers in Japan are using CAD solid modeling for new designs. The cost of rapid prototyping machines is a major factor in increasing sales, because NC machining centers cost less.
Fig. INCS.2. Manufacturing time.