Digital Manufacturing [Source: Rapid Direct]
Today we’re looking at a major manufacturing service based in China, RapidDirect.
Manufacturing services are an essential part of today’s worldwide economy; many ventures do not have the expertise or equipment to effectively build products or components. Let’s face it: manufacturing today is a highly complex matter, and many companies simply want to focus on their own product’s design rather than building out an extensive manufacturing process.
Choosing a manufacturing partner can be quite challenging, as there are many options available both regionally and worldwide. While a regional manufacturing partner may seem convenient, Western companies can often benefit significantly from the economy of scale offered by Asian manufacturers, and that is frequently the case.
CNC milling action [Source: Rapid Direct]
One Asian manufacturing service we’ve looked at recently is RapidDirect, based in Shenzhen and launched only in 2009. I was astonished by the scale of this operation, covers not only 3D printing but many other commonly required making processes. They currently offer manufacturing services in:
That’s a relatively short list, but it’s what’s under these items that is surprising. The scale at which RapidDirect provides each is quite large, and it’s all in their 20,000sm (215,000sf) factory space.
RapidDirect currently operates over 200 manufacturing machines:
20 CNC Machines
15 SLA 3D printers
19 SLS 3D printers
56 Grinding machines
32 Laser cutters
29 Bending machines
34 Injection molding machines
37 Milling machines
In addition to the machines, they offer these finishing services (dependent on the material and process involved):
One interesting aspect of RapidDirect’s operations is their AI-based quoting and analysis system. You simply upload a design file (I tried an STL file) and specify the making process, required material, any desired finishing steps and the part quantity. Then RapidDirect’s system performs an AI-based automated analysis on the part to determine not only the cost but the manufacturability.
Quoting system example [Source: Rapid Direct]
RapidDirect provides a “DFM” (Design For Manufacturing) report that shows obvious issues with the proposed design. Here we can see that an example part is not machinable, but can be 3D printed.
DfM report for a complex object [Source: Rapid Direct]
The AI DFM analysis system seems to use a wealth of data from previous projects to determine manufacturability. This makes a great deal of sense, as it should be possible for an algorithm to identify challenging geometric features in a design based on prior experience.
Once past that stage, your project passes to their AI instant quoting engine, which can immediately show a price for the project. RapidDirect says their prices are typically 30%-50% cheaper than other options.
But it is not just about machines and processes; RapidDirect seems to have considerable experience working on projects with companies. Anyone who’s worked with a contract manufacturer will know that there will be a number of iterations between designer and manufacturer.
The reason for the iterations is to dial-in a design that is efficiently manufacturable. This often requires many iterations if the designer does not have sufficient experience with manufacturing.
What’s happening is that the experienced engineers at the contract manufacturer are examining the design and evaluating its ability to be manufactured using the designated process. Sometimes initial designs are actually not manufacturable, or at least not in the most efficient way, and re-design is required.
It’s possible to request large quantities of parts, or even a single part if the project requires a prototyping service.
RapidDirect’s use of interactive methods demonstrates how Online Manufacturing works: you don’t really interact with a person until you really need to do so. You simply upload the 3D file and get a proper manufacturing assessment and suggestions for optimizations. This is quite different from earlier methods in which a considerable amount of slow person-to-person interaction was required.
Injection moulding example [Source: Rapid Direct]
For more complex projects, it’s also possible to make use of their large complement of highly trained engineers to help refine the design of the part to ensure efficient manufacturing. Currently RapidDirect employs some 150 professional engineers specialized in all relevant technologies and processes. They can even perform product engineering if required.
RapidDirect says their network can provide parts as fast as 3-5 days turnaround, which is not surprising given their facilities and equipment.
Once an order is placed, RapidDirect provides a single source for all information related to the project, including an all-time quote history, ability to compare bulk pricing options and shipping and logistics tracking. They’ll also provide manufacturing process updates as they happen through the same quote management system.
If you’re seeking fast and high quality on-demand manufacturing services, you might want to check out RapidDirect.