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Spare parts through the Internet?

As development  times become shorter, the demand for initial samples or prototypes in business is growing rapidly. At the end of the 1980s, technologies were developed in the United States, which allowed prototypes to be created  directly from computer data. As this can be done very fast, it has become known as Rapid Prototyping (RP). While computer-controlled milling machines (CNC milling machines) have become a common state of engineering in  even the smallest companies, the Rapid Prototyping process - dependant upon high technical and mechanical expenditure  - is very expensive and therefore not available to all users. Companies who do not own this  kind of equipment are dependant upon an appropriate service provider who does have these machines.

A new process developed in Germany now makes it possible for a larger section of users to produce prototypes,  individual parts or initial samples directly on their own CNC milling machine. This is made possible by the 'Millit' software, whose name stems from the English 'mill it'.  With this software the part's data is  examined for possible undercuts, pockets, recesses, angles and corners, and then automatically sliced so that the complex three-dimensional elements are reduced to undercut-free components.

These individual components  are then automatically imbedded into frames, connected by bridges. These sheets, which are typically 10-50mm thick, can now easily be processed on two sides using a normal CNC milling machine. Millit costs just a  fraction of what had to be spent until now on conventional RP systems. Millit can be run under Windows on any state-of-the-art PC.

The new process offers a further important advantage regarding to the materials used.  The established RP systems can only use special plastic, paper or starch powder with more or less good stress properties, that generally do not reflect what the user wants. With Millit, any cuttable material can be used  such as: metals, wood or a wide variety of plastics, e.g. reinforced or transparent.

This makes new ranges of application and clients possible, which could not previously enjoy the advantage of mechanical prototypes.  So, it is not out of the question that in the future companies will stock their spare parts as data files on the Internet, so that customers are able to build their own desperately needed articles themselves at any  time. For example, the construction of a garden-pump impeller made of high-quality plastic could take as little as 5-6 hours from loading the file to installation.