Direct digital manufacturing is the process of going directly from a CAD file to the final product via additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is the process of creating a physical object through the selective fusion, sintering, or polymerization of a material. A design is created using a CAD program and that program is used to direct the operations of an additive manufacturing machine to control the layerbased deposition and processing of materials.

Unlike subtractive manufacturing — metal cutting — where excess material is removed until the final product is achieved, most additive manufacturing processes do not yield excessive scrap. Additive manufacturing typically does not require large amounts of time to remove unwanted material, so it reduces time and costs, and has the ability to create parts that could not have been produced by subtractive or forming manufacturing processes.

Stratasys, Inc. (www.stratasys.com) is now distributing the Arcam A2 (www.arcam.com) direct digital manufacturing and prototype system, which allows the additive manufacturing of parts 75 percent larger than previous models.

The A2 is supplied two interchangeable build chambers. Users can choose between either a high or a wide build chamber, depending on each part's requirements. The high build chamber measures 200 mm by 200 mm by 350 mm (7.87 in. by 7.87 in. by 13.78 in.). The wide chamber is cylindrically shaped with a diameter of 300 mm and a height of 200 mm (11.81 in. by 7.87 in.)

With an improved electron-beam control, the A2 incorporates an all-new high-voltage power supply and has an advanced heat model that increases build speed, precision and part accuracy. A new software version provides useful features such as automatic calibration to eliminate the potential for human error and increase part accuracy.

"This new generation of additive fabrication technology — the electron beam melting process — is gaining acceptance worldwide," said Stratasys CEO Scott Crump. "And it has been catching on particularly well in the market for medical implant manufacturing." Electron beam melting (EBM) systems are used both for custom implants and for series production of standard implants, enhanced with new features that can be achieved only with direct digital manufacturing.

"Producing solid metal parts ready for end use is changing the game for manufacturers," said Stratasys EBM channel manager Kirby Quirk. "With the addition of the new A2 to our portfolio of prototyping and direct digital manufacturing systems, we're giving companies the tools they require to stay competitive in an evolving manufacturing landscape."

Efforts currently are underway to advance direct digital manufacturing processes into high-volume production methods thereby competing directly with traditional manufacturing processes.