Metal Plated Prototypes
Metalclad SLA

At the core of the operation is the stereolithography (SLA) process that uses epoxy photopolymer resins or Plastic Laser Sintering (SLS) that uses nylon based powders to turn a CAD design into a corresponding physical model by way of additive manufacturing. In addition to being relatively quick to produce, these additive processes also allows the part to have more complex geometries and thinner walls than subtractive methods such as machining. It has the same advantages over die casting because engineers are not limited by the need design parts to tooling principles.

Of course, the part that results from SL is still plastic. And even though todays SLA resin offerings provide outstanding stiffness and high temperature resistance over other resins, it still doesn't match up to the durability or EMI shielding of a metal part, limiting its usefulness as a prototype for heavy-duty testing or as a production part.

Adding the copper/nickel cladding solves this issue. Once the shape is created, all surfaces are prepped for adhesion with a special wash that places ions onto the plastic. A thin layer of copper is applied by dipping the plastic model in a bath.

Once dry, the nickel layer is applied to the specified thickness. (The copper layer is used to give the nickel something to bond with electrically, since it does not adhere well to plastic.) Again, copper/nickel cladding is a common technology that has been proven in real-world applications for several years.

Neither of these processes is new per se. Both have been used individually in the industry for years. What's new is that the metal cladding of SLA and SLS patterns has evolved to make metal plating work better with SL, creating not just a coating but a true composite. This composite greatly increases the durability of these parts, making them far more useful for both testing and real-world applications.

And while the metal cladding may not prove as durable as a pure metal part over a huge number of cycles, it is more than sufficient for most test labs and even low volume production runs. But durability isn't the only advantage the Metal cladding process offers. Other benefits include: