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Laminated object manufacturing (LOM) is a technique companies can use to produce rapid prototypes of products in development. The result is not as accurate and durable as some prototypes, but can be well suited for certain applications. With rapid prototypes, the goal is often to quickly create a working model of a piece to allow engineers to discuss the project and make adjustments, as well as to check design changes while projects are in development. For these purposes, the laminated object manufacturing technique is often sufficient for the needs.
In this process, technicians load equipment with glue-backed paper and program a laser. The equipment rolls the paper out, heating it as it goes so the layers will adhere to each other. The laser cuts the paper in cross section. As the equipment rolls out each new layer of paper and the laser cuts it, a three dimensional object forms. The size of the object is limited by the capacity of the equipment, but it is usually possible to make prototypes of a variety of parts.
In laminated object manufacturing, the equipment can quickly produce a scale model of a product. It will not function, as it doesn't have mechanical moving parts, wiring, and other features. It will give designers and developers a general idea of what the product looks like, using current designs. This can allow them to make adjustments to size, configuration, and other characteristics that might impact the functionality or saleability of the end product. Designers can enter new designs into the laser as the product evolves to see new prototypes.
Laser cutting technology like that used in laminated object manufacturing can be reasonably accurate, as long as the designers input the project designs correctly. An operator may need to supervise to check for issues like bubbles and miscuts that might interfere with the appearance of the finished product. Prototypes can be marked up in a variety of ways to indicate which version they are and to provide information about the components that may be used in finished products.
This technology also allows companies to furnish multiple identical copies of a prototype to interested parties. This can be useful when soliciting bids from manufacturers who may be tasked to work on different components of a finished project. The company can use laminated object manufacturing to make a number of prototypes to send out simultaneously, which may make the bidding process much faster.
This process allowed prototype hardware throughput timing to be greatly improved. It allowed the same 3D CAD model to generate the tooling design as well as the hardware design.
The paper did not actually have a glue per se, but it was a butcher paper that had a a plastic on one side that was sealed to the sheet below after each of the laser's cuts were completed.
Large parts could be fabricated using a building block approach to either speedup the models build
time or make prototypes larger than the cube of the machine. The material was dimensionally stable and could be sealed for longevity.
While the actual paper/reconstituted wood piece could not be used for a test
part. It did allow a CAD designer to look at a 35 pound finished casting on his table before he could complete the detail print that a pattern maker would need to start with.
The process was accurate enough to make large castings tooling for prototype hardware. It was about five or six times faster than making wood patterns for the same applications.
After starting with a beta machine and using the process for almost a decade, I would have to disagree with the author's opinion about its accuracy. --JLH
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