Successes with 3D Printing on the Factory Floor.
3D printing often sounds like one of those technologies that will be useful ‘one day’, but the truth is, it’s already having a huge impact in a factory near you. If you’re not at least considering where 3D printing can impact your business, you’re probably falling behind. We’re going to show you some actionable steps that you can take immediately to begin identifying areas of impact that 3D printing can help you on your factory floor.
We’re going to start by talking about today’s manufacturing landscape, and what’s driving forward-thinking organizations to bring 3D printing capabilities into their manufacturing work-flows.
Tooling is one of the highest-impact and easiest-to-implement factory applications of 3D printing. We’ll show you why it makes sense to print these in general terms and then walk you through some examples of extremely successful manufacturing examples.
Since many manufacturers are relatively new to 3D printing, we’re then going to take a step back and explain the 3D printing process a bit.
Finally, we’ll offer you some ideas of where and how to start looking for high impact applications in your own manufacturing business and operations.
Manufacturing has changed …
Manufacturing technology has changed by leaps and bounds in the last 100, even the last 50 years. We’ve gone from the assembly line to lean production cells, hand tools to CNC machining centers and we’re currently figuring out where and how automation fits in the mix. We’ve come a long way in the last century…
… but a lot hasn’t changed much at all …
…but at the same time, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed either.
We still cast metal into moulds and to avoid manufacturing downtime, we still have to carry extensive back-libraries of tooling and replacement parts. Minimum order quantities are still high and lead times are long, especially on low volume parts, like tooling and fixtures.
Tried and true manufacturing methods are reliable, but they’re holding us back from greater gains in speed and efficiency.
Manufacturing pressures have only increased
One thing that’s always changing are the pressures manufacturers are under to deliver. As technology improves, so do the demands of internal and external customers, leading to ever-decreasing cost goals, needs for efficiency, and a desire to move faster and faster when bringing new products to market.
Take a car for example.
Cars are complicated – they are made up of thousands of parts. Each part requiring an entire design and validation process. Once you have your final part – then you have to mass-produce it.
Precision engineering company challenges
Every one of those prototypes goes through the machine shop at your, or a local precision engineering shop. Each of those prototypes needs to be designed, drawn-out and machined by in-house machinists or external shops. Each iteration takes 2-6 weeks. For every iteration for every part.
The busier the machine shop and the more complex your part(s), the longer the wait. The more parts there are, the longer the wait.
Changing one part design could have implications on other parts — so the entire design …. validation process has to start all over. More time passes. Each of these delays increasing time-to-market and costs.
Often, you have to wait for months to get the mould built.
This is a much more modern mould, but the process is largely the same. Think about that. Humans have been pouring metal into moulds for over 7 thousand years. While the process has evolved and casting has become much more advanced, the way that we make metal parts has not fundamentally changed.
This is why it took Elon Musk & friends 5 years before they could bring their first product (the roadster) to market in 2008.
Despite 100 years of technological development – time-to-market is no faster for Tesla than it was for Ford. Think about that – 100 years and it still takes 5 years to build and ship a car.
This is what holds back innovation in hardware
New materials and new processes are radically changing what’s possible.
3D Printing: A Solution, But To What Problem?
Which brings us to the new technology that we are talking about — 3D printing. There’s been a lot of hype around 3D printing in the last decade, and it’s generally focused on using 3D printers in such a wide range of applications that it’s become tough as a manufacturer to know where to start. What’s worse, much of the hype for 3D printing has focused on pipe-dream applications that are in no way achievable in the next few years.
While it’s important to be aware of future technology, we are looking at how you can make an impact on your business NOW. We’re going to make it easy to start your journey with 3D printing and show you some of the most high-impact applications to focus on when you’re evaluating 3D printing for your work.
New Continuous Fiber 3D Printing Process
Using fibre re-inforcement, 3D printed strong parts are possible, these opening up a host of possibilities. Here are a couple of applications.
Automated Manufacturing Tooling
APPLICATION: Gripper Jaw
MATERIALS: Onyx + Chopped Carbon Fibre
TIME SAVINGS: 87%
COST SAVINGS: 97%
Precision Quality Inspection
APPLICATION: Inspection Fixture
TIME SAVINGS: 70%
COST SAVINGS: 98%
Where to Begin? Tooling: Your High-Impact Starting Point for 3D Printing
Tooling. Tooling production is a significant part of the pain of the three economic pressures we noted earlier. From our experiences with our customers, we know that 3D printing can produce a major leap forward in manufacturing when applied to tooling challenges.
We focus on tooling because it’s a proven way to demonstrate the value of 3D printing in your organization quickly and reliably. The faster you can demonstrate real value to your company, the more latitude you’ll have to experiment with other applications of 3D printing that aren’t as well-documented.
The functional requirements of tooling also align well with the capabilities of 3D printing, which we’ll talk to later.
What do we mean by tooling?
Before we dive into this however, we need a common definition of what we mean by tooling.
Everyone has a different definition of what tooling entails so let’s talk about what we’re specifically going to focus on. There are quite a few different types of tooling across manufacturing sectors that are good applications for 3D printing — these are a few examples.
- drill guides
- assembly fixtures
- chuck jaws
- end-of-arm tooling
- welding fixtures
- alignment jigs
- CMM nests
Tooling development is painful…
So what makes tooling an application ripe for disruption with 3D printing?
Fundamentally, tooling, like the types listed above, are often produced in low volume. That means they’re expensive, relegated to lower priorities in the backlog, and generally come with long lead times. All of this adds up to pain for you, who has to deal with these barriers in the course of trying to do your job.
At an organizational level, slow tooling development leads to extended manufacturing ramping up periods, longer time-to-market and less agility to respond to market demands.
With 3D printing, however, this doesn’t have to be the case — tooling can be quickly and inexpensively iterated, with strong and functional materials, and non-marring, high-quality surface finishes which meet the needs of a wide range of tooling applications. Let’s take a look at how 3D printing offers an improvement over traditional processes for producing tooling.
Time Costs of Machining Tooling
Here are some generalized steps and their associated time costs in the process of getting a part machined in an internal or external machine shop. Depending on your business, this can get much more complex with RFQ’s and your internal PO process, but it’s a good summary of what it’ll often take to get a part.
When you add all that time together, you get the full lead time to get a single design iteration of a part back. This can vary but is often in the 2-4 week range for non-rush jobs for our typical customers.
That’s a TON of time to wait for feedback on your work — and in today’s manufacturing environment, it just doesn’t cut it anymore.
3D Printing Is Simpler
When you bring 3D printing capabilities into your workflow, however, it’s an entirely different story. Unlike many shops, you don’t need to create an engineering drawing to print your part. Simply upload your CAD file for a live online quotation, approve and it will be 3D printed and you’re ready to go. Combined, these steps alone can save an incredible amount of time and effort for companies with complex internal processes.
3D printers also often have smaller backlogs than internal or external machine shops so your project isn’t waiting in as long of a queue.
Faster Design Iteration With 3D Printing
The impact of 3D printing is much bigger than reducing the lead time of a single part — each iteration of tooling R&D is dependent on the results of the previous.
A faster, more efficient production process means that you can run through multiple iterations of 3D printed tools in the time it would take to machine a single tool, resulting in more mature tooling designs, in the same period of time, as prior tooling projects, or equally mature tooling in a much faster time period.
Success in Manufacturing
Now that we’ve shown you a general overview of how 3D printing can produce more efficient tooling, let’s dive into a couple of examples of customers finding success with 3D printing in manufacturing environments.
Our first success story is Dixon Valve and Coupling Company, a 100+ year old manufacturer of hose couplings and fluid transfer accessories.
You can see some of the types of products Dixon makes here. Many of their products are produced by casting a blank, then machining high precision surfaces into a finished part. One of Dixon’s big initiatives is to maintain and increase their market leadership position, and they’re accomplishing that through strategic investments in technology upgrades for their manufacturing operations, including adding 3D printing to their workflow.
Specifically, Dixon has invested in automation technologies that assist and amplify the productivity of their workforce. Dixon employees, for example, work closely with CNC machines tended by industrial robots, which offer safer, more ergonomic alternatives to loading heavy castings by hand into machining centers.
Immediate Business Impact at Dixon Valve
Dixon has seen some rapid improvements to their business and manufacturing department with 3D printing technology.
In terms of direct impacts, they’ve seen massive decreases in both tooling lead time and cost as a result, bringing their tooling lead times to just a few days or overnight for high priority projects.
On the cost front, Dixon’s has seen an average cost savings of ZAR500k on average, per project where they’ve heavily applied 3D printing technology.
- Lead time decrease
- 2-4 weeks → 2-3 days
- Rush: 3-5 days → 24 hours
- Cost savings
- ZAR500k avg (82%) per project
- Break-even ROI in 1.5 mo
Beyond the immediate impacts, Dixon has seen significant improvements to their business at the organizational level. The ability to quickly iterate and produce production-grade tools with 3D printing has fundamentally transformed Dixon’s approach to manufacturing.
In Dixon’s advanced manufacturing engineering division, the expectation is now that tooling R&D iterations can be completed in under a day unless something *needs* to be machined.
3D printing has also helped Dixon quickly scale its higher-margin custom projects division and deliver on those projects at market-leading speed. And at a high level, across Dixon’s tooling groups there is a growing culture of rapid innovation and experimentation that has helped propel them forwards.
Stanley Black & Decker
For our last customer example, we wanted to show you an application of metal 3D printing that goes beyond tooling. For that, we want to talk about Stanley Infrastructure, which is the heavy industrial tool manufacturing arm of Stanley Black & Decker.
Stanley Infrastructure builds handheld hydraulic-powered tools for demanding infrastructure applications. If you’ve ever ridden a train, drank tap water from a municipal supply or been inside a commercial building, chances are that Stanley Infrastructure made the construction or maintenance of that possible.
An important characteristic of Stanley Infrastructure’s business is that they make tools that are expected to last or be supported for decades but are also produced in relatively low volumes of hundreds or thousands per year, which presents unique challenges for the manufacture of production and spare parts.
Stanley Infrastructure – PD45 Post Driver
Stanley Infrastructure is constantly looking to innovate and improve their processes and so they turned to Markforged to help develop a more economical solution for building replacement spare parts for their PD45 hydraulic post driver.
The PD45 is used to drive road signposts into the ground and endures a lot of vibration and shock. A part of the driver that tends to fail is the assembly that actuates the hydraulic system.
The housing that makes up this assembly is a cast part that’s then finish machined.
Stanley only makes a couple of hundred PD45 drivers per year and requires only a few dozen replacement housing parts per year which presents a manufacturing challenge in producing replacements economically — either the parts are made ad hoc at high cost or a large order quantity must be ordered and inventoried for years, neither of which is particularly attractive.
Post Driver Redesign and Testing
Stanley redesigned the assembly to optimize for 3D printing, taking it from an assembly of 4 parts to a single part. No supports. No post-processing
Using the Onyx fibre reinforced material, the part was so strong, they had to invent new test methods for the 3D printed part to see how to make it fail.
Stanley’s life cycle testing involved a robot that actuated the switch repeatedly for hundreds of thousands of cycles and the 3D printed part passed with flying colors.
Post Driver – ROI
Stanley calculated that by printing the redesigned actuator assembly, they’d save the majority of their costs in their service part model, where parts are required on an occasional basis. Even on a production basis, there were significant cost and lead time savings to 3D printing the housing.
Talk to us about how we can help you optimise your factory production processes and work-flow …