Robert Montes joined EnvisionTEC in early 2017 as a 3D builder after getting a taste for manufacturing as an industrial drafting student at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan.
As part of a co-op program there, he worked at Ford Motor Co. designing engines for machinists. That work wasn’t as creative as he wanted, so he jumped at the chance to work for a 3D printing company.
As a 3D builder, Robert takes digital design files from prospective 3D printer buyers and prints them on different machines and in different materials, so customers can get a sense of what a 3D printer can do for their business.
Robert specializes his work on EnvisionTEC’s DLP printers, which use a high-definition projector to cure photopolymer in a vat. EnvisionTEC sells both desktop and production versions of DLP machines, such as Vida and Perfactory printer models.
“I get to see all these different industries and how they do things,” Robert said, emphasizing how he often works with potential customers in areas as diverse as jewelry, dental and manufacturing in a single week.
“I get to show them what our printers are capable of,” Robert said.
In 2016, EnvisionTEC also launched a high-speed Continuous Digital Light Manufacturing (cDLM) technology that Robert works with regularly. The cDLM essentially builds parts on a layer of oxygen in free space, allowing the build platform to move continuously in the vertical Z axis, unlike standard DLP that prints an object one controlled exposure layer at a time.
“It’s so much easier,” Robert said of the new cDLM technology. That’s largely because print jobs require less preparation because they require less supports — a situation that also results in more successful print jobs in his experience.
“It’s really nice to work with,” Robert said.
As part of this job, Robert also gets to work on creative marketing projects to show off what EnvisionTEC 3D printers can do.
Most recently, he’s been working on a mega-chain project, to build a large durable chain in a single build. He first got the idea after seeing some mesh jewelry chain projects that EnvisionTEC’s UK office had done in cooperation with some jewelry customers.
In order to do a rugged chainlink, though, Robert needed a durable material because so many supports would be necessary to support all the links of the chain he was designing. If a material is too soft during building, it would sag and the print job would fail.
When EnvisionTEC began testing its E-RigidForm material, which officially launches at RAPID + TCT 2018, Robert knew the company had a winner for the project. The hard and stiff material has a tensile strength of 68-73 MPa with an elongation at break of 7%. In fact, it’s one of the most durable materials ever developed by EnvisionTEC and in the 3D printing industry.
To test his concept, Robert spent two weeks designing the job, link by link, and layer by layer to build a test print job on a Perfactory 4 XL printer. In all, the test job had 639 links, 14 layers and was 40.5 feet long. It took 19 hours to build.
The job was so complex that Robert labeled it “test1” on his computer, thinking he might have test a few strategies to get a successful build.
“I was checking it every couple of minutes,” he said.
To his delight, the job printed perfectly the first time, and no second test print was required.
From Test Print to Super Print
Then, Robert decided to expand the print job and print it on the company’s largest 3D printer, an Xede 3SP, with a build area of 18 x 18 x 18 inches.
Given the success he had on the Perfactory, Robert decided to shift his build strategy to better maximize his use of space in each layer. In his first job, he print the links all horizontally or vertically. In the new job, he wanted to print some of the links on a 45-degree angle to print more links in each layer.
Originally, his goal was to print a 627-foot chain.
A complication arose, however. Because the job was so big, with so many objects – 9,414 links and 15 layers – his computer kept crashing whenever he tried to generate the supports for the design file.
Another 3D builder, Erica Finkowski, sprang into action to help. Erica has a master’s degree in fine arts from Temple University and is expert with CAD-CAM technology.
“Erica makes her own computers at home for fun,” Robert explained, “so she helped out on one of her home super computers.”
To make sure they could build the Mega-Chain in time for RAPID + TCT, the project was redesigned to include 6,144 links, each measuring 1.5 inches, arranged in 16 layers.
At just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, Erica emailed the team: Successful build job generated!
“It is with great joy I announce that a build job has successfully been generated for the Xede,” Erica wrote. “This chain will be more than 300 feet. I look forward to us breaking this record!”
In all, it took Erica’s homemade computer 1.5 hours to process the print job, which requires dividing the design into print layers and generating supports.
On the night of April 11, the job was finally sent to the Xede for printing. That job, which was printed over 99 hours unattended, also printed successfully on the first try.
And the rest, as they say, is history.