On the Job: Right Tools Keep Xybernaut on Cutting Edge

14 Jul, 2005 Cadalyst

Stereolithography helps U.S. mobile--computer developer stay ahead of Far East competition

With more than 700 patent applications issued or pending and a reputation for high-tech innovation, Xybernaut Corp. ranks as one of the hottest names in the rapidly expanding mobile computer business. Based in Fairfax, Virginia, the company develops wearable/mobile computing hardware, software and services, delivering communications and full-function computing power in a hands-free design. Users of Xybernaut's custom-designed software/hardware packages include DaimlerChrysler, Siemens and Federal Express, defense and other government organizations and international front-line media E-Press organizations.

To stay ahead of Far East competition, Xybernaut relies heavily on embedded logic technology and SL (stereolithography) rapid prototyping utilizing DSM Somos technology from ASG, a design and prototyping company based in Sindelfingen, Germany. ASG clients include companies of all sizes in the automotive, consumer-goods and IT segments. DSM Somos is the world's second-largest materials supplier to the rapid prototyping industry, providing stereolithography liquids and selective laser sintering powders for creating 3D models and prototypes directly from digital data.

Figure 1. Design and prototyping company ASG can produce small series of complex, technical parts such as the hardware for Xybernaut's XYPX.

What is Stereolithography?
Stereolithography permits the rapid creation of 3D pieces utilizing a computer-controlled laser that polymerizes light-sensitive resins. The process is highly precise and constructs the object in a series of what are called additive layers, producing complex forms that are difficult or impossible to fabricate by machining or traditional molding techniques. The evolution of advanced SL materials offers the potential of moving stereolithography from prototyping into production.

"ASG switched both of its SLA machines to Somos White and Somos WaterShed [materials] in early 2004," says Cristoph Beutel, ASG managing director. "Without a doubt, this was the right move! Both materials have excellent surface quality, are extremely fast but accurate and, thanks to their extremely low moisture absorption of around 0.3%, are also stable over time. Whether we are producing parts for design evaluation, functional testing or patterns for RTV [room-temperature vulcanizing] silicone-mold soft-tools, ASG is able to deliver high-quality prototypes within an extremely short timeframe. This is key to our overall business strategy -- whether it be for customers in the automotive, consumer or, like Xybernaut, IT segments."

Edwin Vogt, Xybernaut's senior vice president research and development, says access to high-quality soft tooling allows the company to rapidly produce fully functional models at a price that helps the company retain its leadership position -- even in the face of strong competition from Far East, especially Taiwan, China and Japan."

Facilitating the Development Process
"We've found a great partner in ASG," says Vogt. "The company not only helps us to optimize our hardware designs, but also produces high-quality SL models for evaluation and functional testing.

"Once this step has been completed, we can move rapidly to the critical stage of small-series production of up to 30 to 40 models either for prototyping or quantity-limited customer trials and evaluations. The availability of ASG's high-quality RTV soft-tools for vacuum casting, particularly in the design and development phase, is critical. Without them, it would be difficult to compete with many of our competitors in Europe and the Far East."

Vogt continues, "With ASG's RTV soft-tooling capability, we can reach the same level of quality as with hard-tooling, but at only one-tenth of the cost. This allows Xybernaut to rapidly incorporate design changes, tailor a base model to a client's highly specialized design specification or extend runs with a second, third or even fourth soft-tool. In short, access to high-quality RTV soft-tooling based on the original SL model gives the company an extremely high level of flexibility at comparatively low cost."