Fast Prototyping Helps Bring Game Changing Lighting Products to Market

In recent years, as diode technology has improved, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have been getting increasing attention as a source of residential and commercial lighting. Small wonder, since compared to traditional incandescent lighting, these new lighting sources can provide the same amount of illumination using as little as 10 to 15% of the power.  This huge reduction in energy consumption means big savings for consumers and, perhaps more importantly, big reductions in the amount of fossil fuel used to generate that power.

None of this is news to one lighting manufacturer who has pioneered many residential and commercial LED lighting applications and has set itself the task of leading what it calls “the LED lighting revolution,” aimed at making traditional energy-intensive lighting technologies obsolete. One of its more significant initiatives in this area has been a line of LED architectural lighting products that incorporate breakthroughs in optical, electronic and mechanical design, as well as thermal management, allowing optimal distribution of light with minimal power consumption. The goal, ultimately, is to replace the miles and miles of overhead lighting in office buildings, schools, hospitals and retail structures with energy efficient LEDs.

It’s a bold move, but as the potential impact of products like this become increasingly clear, a growing number of companies are seeking to establish themselves as players in this arena. One company knew that in order to maintain its leadership position in this young market it had to get its new lighting product to market quickly. Essential to that aim was getting the required prototype parts, and that help came from 3-Dimensional Services of Rochester Hills, MI.

3-Dimensional Services is a firm that specializes in design, engineering and analysis, in-house tool construction, and complete build of prototype first off parts and low to medium volume production runs. It has built its success on the use of advanced process methods, its extensive array of in-house manufacturing technologies and the varied talents of its highly skilled staff. This confluence of factors enables 3-Dimensional Services to provide actual prototype parts -- not just models -- up to 70% faster than conventionally equipped prototype shops.

While the company created the lighting modules for the new product line, 3-Dimensional Services was tasked with creating the metal fixtures that would house them. “The fixtures began as low carbon steel blanks,” says Scott Duffie, senior sales engineer for 3-Dimensional Services. “First, the blanks were laser cut to near finish dimensions on one of our 5-axis lasers.”

3-Dimensional Services has no less than fifteen 5-axis lasers, so no job ever sits idle waiting for an open laser. These 5-axis lasers, the largest of which boasts a 5’ x 10’ cutting area, are generally used to process the more complex parts and contours. If 5-axis capabilities aren’t required, the company also has seven 3-axis lasers.

Three different sizes of the fixtures were needed, the largest of which measured 2' x 4', and this meant that three different forming tools were required. Fortunately, rapid tool design is a specialty of 3-Dimensional Services, thanks to its extensive design and engineering department that utilizes over 30 high-speed terminals with the leading software packages, allowing it to work from virtually any data files.
Three, three-piece forming tools consisting of punch, die and draw ring, were designed. Machining programs were generated from these designs and offloaded to 3-Dimensional Services’ CNC machines – the company has an array of CNC machining centers so jobs never have to wait for an available machine.  
Machining programs were developed from the resulting designs and the tools were cut from aluminum rather than from tool steel because the softer metal could be machined faster, but very accurately and to a high quality finish. This was important because as Duffie notes, “These parts, because of the environments they were intended for, needed to have a Class A finish, with no wrinkles, nicks or flaws.”

Next came forming on three of 3-Dimensional’s numerous presses, in this case 800 ton hydraulics, after which the parts, from 20 to 75 for each of the three sizes, were taken back to a 5-axis laser for final trimming. The parts were then transferred back to the hydraulic presses for secondary bending operations in which some of the trimmed edges were flanged or hemmed. This required three bending tools, one for each part size. These additional tools were created using the same technology, and with the same speed, as the three original forming tools.

“The parts underwent final checks, then powder coated, and shipped,” says Duffie. “All of this occurred within the three to four week time frame the customer had specified.

“Every job is important to us,” he continues. “That’s because we put our reputation on the line every time a new job, with its own new set of demands, comes into the shop. With this job, though, there was the extra satisfaction of knowing that our technology and know-was helping bring energy efficient products to market, products that can help all of us reduce our dependency on increasingly costly fossil fuels.”

The 3-Dimensional Services Group, consists of 3-Dimensional Services, Urgent Plastic Services, and Urgent Design & Manufacturing. Together they design, engineer and build functional prototype parts and low-to-medium volume production parts 50 to 70% faster than conventional prototype shops. To achieve this end they employ virtually all relevant manufacturing processes, including injection molding and casting, stamping, machining, robotic and manual welding, laser cutting and welding, waterjet, hydroforming, tube bending, vibration welding, casting and pattern fabrication, RIM tooling, rapid prototyping and assembly operations.

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