3D printed rail wiper.
3D Platform is renowned for its large-format FDM machine that can produce products as big as a piece of furniture or even a motorcycle body with its huge 1 x 1 x 0.5 metre build area. What people probably don’t realise is that the recently upgraded 3DP1000 machine has found itself an entirely different niche in the somewhat less glamorous but equally noteworthy world of manufacturing aids.
Manufacturing aids can range between anything from simple guides to complex fixtures and can be used to enhance a manufacturing or assembly production. They are traditionally produced using conventional tooling methods but as with any low-volume production run, this can prove both cost and time consuming. With 3D technologies, engineers have the freedom to recognise a problem and design, test and manufacture a simple solution in a matter of days.
Take for example this Profile Rail Wiper designed by an engineer at 3D Platform’s parent company PBC Linear. Engineered to replace the built-in wiper on an industrial steel rail-cutting machine, the fixture pushes away big steel chips while helping retain oil and lubrication in the rail bearings. However there was a problem where the original wiper would fail to catch smaller steel chips, which if left on the rail could cause the ball bearing system to fail or the entire system to stop. Rather than going to the expense of designing and manufacturing an alternative wiper through tooling, the engineers used the 3DP1000 to 3D print an add-on wiper that would fit tightly on the rail and catch even the smallest chips of steel.
“We were able to overcome easily a simple issue that otherwise would have cost us thousands of dollars in tooling and specialty services,” Mitch Van Vleet, Engineer at PBC Linear, explained. “I was able to analyse the solution, and experiment with different designs until I landed on the one that worked best. This also benefited me by allowing me to work solo, and not having to take a toolmaker away from another project to assist me.”
Using 3D modelling and 3D printing, Mitch was able to experiment with various iterations and materials to determine the best solution. A total of eight design iterations were used in order to reach the most optimised design with each taking just 20 minutes to print in PLA at a cost of $0.20 per piece. This method proved a massive 500% saving in cost compared to traditional tooling.
“3D printing has allowed us to approach many projects more confidently,” Mitch explained. “Rather than gambling large amounts of time and resources when implementing new ideas or product designs; we can simply turn to our 3D printers for a cheap, effective method of prototyping and experimentation. With a vast array of capabilities and wealth of printable materials, we have found this process to be very versatile and efficient.”
3D printed die holder.
Another example is this custom designed Thread Rolling Machine Die Holder designed by a fellow PBC Linear engineer. The device is used to house several production instruments including a pair of die, blot and test pieces in one easy-to-access place. This particular thread rolling machine has over 50 sets of cylindrical dies that require appropriate storage to avoid contamination and corrosion over time. In addition, the operation requires a streamlined workflow to ensure each set of dies is stored with its pairing test pieces and bolt. Typically to manufacture a die holder in low volume will usually cost a minimum of $300 per piece with a 2-5 week lead-time. Using 3D printing, this can be reduced to less than a day.
“3D Printing has given me a very easy and fast way to prototype new designs. Before I would create a design and then send it to a tool maker for initial production,” Cameron Paulson, Engineer at PBC Linear said. “If the design did not work the way we expected we would have to make adjustments to the design, which is normal in developing process. Every time we have to redesign it wastes engineering time, the machine operator’s time, and building materials. With 3D printing, I can make rough designs and print them out without having to worry about machining time or material cost.”
The design was modelled using CAD and Simplify3D and 3D Printed in one piece using PLA. The team set up the 3DP1000 to print four cases at a time and they were able to leave the machine running even after the factory had shut down. After just two iterations, the holder was put to use in less than a week at a cost of $100 per piece.
For low-volume, customised products like these manufacturing aids, 3D printing can be a simple, fast and inexpensive method of manufacture, requiring minimal labour and giving engineers the flexibility to trial designs with less risk. Just as the technology has proved somewhat of an unsung hero in the tooling world, for engineers exploring ways of improving conventional manufacturing tools it is proving to offer the same subtle but valuable benefits. In these particular cases, 3D printing is less about stepping in to replace traditional manufacturing methods but rather a catalyst to advance their capabilities.
“3D Printing has a reputation of only being used to print trinkets or small parts,” Cameron commented. “Thinking of fixturing projects with 3D printing applications will definitely expand the scope of 3D printing. The goal for 3D printing is not to replace traditional manufacturing methods but use it in conjunction to augment the application possibilities.”
“The real benefit of 3D printing jigs and fixtures is the amount of freedom the engineer is allowed when working on any kind of project,” Mitch added. “It helps break away from the mould of only being able to use what is available for purchase on the market and shoehorning it to fit your needs. Rather, specific fixturing can just be created for any purpose-built application.”
3D Platform will be at the upcoming TCT Show + Personalize 2016 taking place on 28-29th September at NEC, Birmingham UK. Visitors can REGISTER FOR FREE and find out more about 3D Platform on booth F12.