Star Prototype

Star Prototype (3)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017 10:48

Star Prototype Rebrands to Star Rapid

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Star Prototype announces its rebrand to Star Rapid. The new name comes at a time when traditional manufacturing operations are being combined with technologies like 3D printing to create new development solutions. The rebrand also coincides with an expansion of the company's 60,000 square-feet of facilities and significant investment of U.S. $2.5 million into cutting-edge equipment, including plastic injection moulding machines, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining centers, Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) machines, and high-tech inspection and testing equipment to support innovation around the globe.

As an established global leader in rapid prototyping and low to mid volume manufacturing, Star Rapid has earned a reputation for quality workmanship, quick turnaround times and competitive pricing. With the addition of metal 3D printing and high-precision 5-axis CNC machining, Star Rapid is poised to provide even more comprehensive solutions for next-generation parts and prototypes, volume production and finishing services.

Star Rapid ensures customer needs are being met through a strong emphasis on inspection and quality control. With dedicated employees, specific to this area, the company has invested in new testing equipment including metals and plastics spectrometers. These measures are essential for ensuring the conformance of raw materials and finished products and are only part of Star's comprehensive quality assurance program.

"Star Rapid represents the next-generation of manufacturing where precision meets passion," said Gordon Styles, founder and president of Star Rapid. "The initial founding more than a decade ago, and the recent rebrand to Star Rapid, were partly inspired by principles found within the world of Star Trek. As a company, we embrace high technology to enhance the expertise and experience of our staff, and we strive to operate as a meritocracy. We know that with the right tools and a dedicated team, we can challenge the status quo."

Over the next five years, Star Rapid plans to expand by an additional 30 percent and to continue its promise to stay rapid in everything it does, from the initial enquiry to the final product.

Star Prototype has helped turn an innovative idea for a unisex travel razor into a commercial product for the discerning traveller by delivering the key elements of Cormia Design’s new Pocket Razor.

Designed by Mario Cormier, the owner of Canada-based Cormia Design, the Pocket Razor is TSA approved meaning it is ideal for men and women on the go, and can also be used on an everyday basis. It is manufactured in high quality aluminium, comes with a cover and keychain and accepts all popular twin blade cartridges.
Cormier said: “Since I started shaving back in 1980 I’ve experimented with virtually every kind of razor imaginable, but never found the perfect travel one. So with the intention of developing a solution that ticked the boxes the others failed to satisfy I set about creating the Pocket Razor.”

“Of course the job of taking these designs and developing a working product out of them is a huge challenge, and I couldn’t have picked a better partner than Star Prototype.

“They were a great company to do business with. Their service was always fast and efficient and the quality of both their work and communication was excellent. I’m certainly looking forward to working with them again.”

Star’s brief was to develop the tooling and parts for the Pocket Razor. A job that included producing a cover made of Aluminium 6063, which was created using extrusion processing. The team also developed 15 samples of the different cover finishes available so that Cormia was able to select the right option for them. The chosen satin finish was then cleaned and coated in order to protect its surface and prevent oxidisation. Star also made the razor by die casting with ADC12.

Prior to delivery, all 500 parts developed by Star were put through a rigorous inspection process to ensure everything was the correct shape, the right material and that it passed the Faro test.

Gordon Styles, managing director of Star Prototype, said: “While we pride ourselves on the speed of our service, we will never allow the quality of our work to suffer as a result of trying to complete a project in the quickest possible time.”

“Everything we do undergoes a full inspection prior to delivery. We check everything from size, shape and finish to the exact content of the metallic material used and only when everything has passed every test do we allow the product to leave our factory.”

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When it comes to new product development, the importance of the prototype simply cannot be underestimated. Gordon Styles, the Middlesbrough-born owner of Chinese firm, Star Prototype talks to Prototype Today about the processes that put the product in the hands of the designers before it goes into production – including one that transforms Polycarbonates in the blinking of an eye.

“The delivery of a prototype is one of the key stages in the development of virtually any new product. After months, sometimes years, of work it’s the moment the designer finally gets the product – or at least a very close approximation of it – in their hands. Giving them the chance to fully test it and iron out any design flaws prior to production.

Therefore, the aim for companies like ourselves is to deliver a prototype that is as close to the production specification as possible. In fact, any major deviation from the intended end product can be counterproductive, both in terms of the product design process and for the prototyping company involved.

As you’d expect the rapid prototyping market is extremely competitive, with the smallest things making the difference between wining and losing a contract. Whether this be the speed with which the prototype can be delivered or the manner in which it is polished.

What makes the industry particularly complicated is that the prototype needed can be for virtually anything. For example, in recent months we’ve delivered prototypes for a modular penknife with 18 different functions, a device that stops bar tables wobbling, a hand-held hard skin remover and even a woman’s shoe.

What this all means in practice is that the successful rapid prototyping company tends to be the one with the most strings to its bow, meaning it has the flexibility to deliver the best solution every time. This is an approach that I used successfully with Styles Rapid Prototyping in the UK in the 1990s and adopted again when I came to China to set up Star Prototype in 2005.

Our service currently covers everything from Stereolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) through to CNC machining.

SLA and SLS tend to be used for the delivery of fast one-off prototypes. SLA uses a laser that converts a liquid photopolymer into a solid plastic layer by layer. Each layer is different and a 3D model is built up on a perforated plate in the bath of photopolymer. SLS is another laminated manufacturing process, the main difference being that it uses a much higher power laser to sinter plastic powder together to form a 3D prototype.  

Meanwhile, CNC machining enables us to use the actual production material of the product as opposed to delivering a prototype in an SL or SLS simulant. Using aluminiums, copper based materials, and even hardened tool-steel, we use heat-shrink cutter holders for our high-speed spindles to ensure cutting accuracy, and also have a portable FARO Laser Scanning Arm that can be positioned next to the machine to inspect 3D parts prior to them being removed from it.

These processes, plus polyurethane casting, tend to be used as standard by most leading rapid prototyping companies. Meaning the key differentiating factors are often found in the detail – and one particularly interesting example is the use of vapour polishing.

This highly dangerous process, which requires the use of toxic Weld-On 4 gas, dates back to World War 2, when it was developed specifically to make Spitfire cockpit canopies clear again after repairs. Today, it is most frequently used by technicians seeking to quickly repair damage to Polycarbonates.

The process works by heating the solvent to 43 degrees Celsius and allowing the resultant gas, which is only in contact with the surface for one or two seconds, to flow over the surface of the Polycarbonate. When it hits the surface it melts it at a molecular level and turns it clear. This happens instantly and is, without any exaggeration, the closest thing to magic you are ever likely to see in the rapid prototyping industry.

What is particularly interesting about the whole process is that it doesn’t actually change the general surface finish. In fact, if the material had milling marks prior to being vapour polished, then they will still be evident afterwards, but the material will be clear. In fact, you can even turn a hacksaw finish clear with vapour polishing.

One drawback is that Weld-On 4 gas is extremely toxic and so vapour polishing must be carried out in a strictly controlled environment with active carbon masks being absolutely essential. The dangers of the process are such that when we carry it out we always have a team of four involved. One person manages the Weldon kettle, one does the painting, one is continually inspecting, and another is outside the room, also wearing a mask, watching in case of an accident. The sealed room fills from the floor up with gas and after the vapour polishing is finalised the room is fully ventilated with extraction fans, which scrub the gas through active carbon filters.

One of the most recent projects where we opted to use vapour polishing was the development of a prototype for a finger vein biometric door access solution. The pads on the keypad needed to be made out of a polycarbonate. At first PMMA was considered, but this would have required a lot of manual sanding and the parts were too small for this to be realistic. Additionally, and despite Weldon 4 being a PMMA Acrylic solvent that is used widely for bonding/melting pieces of PMMA together, it is not recommended to use it to vapour polish PMMA as it may craze the surface.

Instead the decision was made to make the parts from PC and vapour polish them. The end result of which was a clear demonstration of the value of the process. The parts were far clearer than they would have been had we persisted with PMMA and manual polishing and they were finalised in a fraction of the time.

Interestingly, despite its formative Spitfire roots, vapour polishing is not a process that is currently readily available in the UK. Instead those wishing to reap its benefits have to look further afield – with a number of companies here in China, as well as USA, German and France offering it.

In my opinion the benefits of vapour polishing far outweigh its dangers and it will be interesting to see how quickly this attitude becomes the prevalent one in the UK. If it doesn’t happen quickly then I do feel the rapid prototyping industry will leave those operating in these regions behind.”

Star Prototype is a full service rapid prototyping company based in the Guangdong Province of China.

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