It is a well worn path when talking about 3D printing to glorify the future and what we will be doing with the technologies but if this year’s TCT Show + Personalize had a theme it was that of the present; what people are doing now. That was never more evident than on the Stratasys booth.
In order to validate the technology a company like Stratasys may often look to the big guys, the multi-nationals with a whopping R&D budget, for an interesting use case. Touring the Stratasys booth at TCT Show 2015 you’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of some of the companies that were eager to display how they are using 3D printing to its full potential.
It’s not that Stratasys couldn’t get displays from companies like Unilever, who a recent study showed use Stratasys technology in order to cut lead times by up to 90%. Rutland Plastics, Whale Pumps, Design Reality, Strakka Racing – all companies with a workforce way below 100 – were asked to participate on the booth this was a strategic display of might in 3D printing for the little guy.
“My focus of improvement in our message is not necessarily to put across the sexy 3D printed applications but the really useful, the really timesaving applications that save money,” explained Director Marketing EMEA at Stratasys, Nicole Clement. “Strakka Racing, for instance, is making prototypes, jigs and fixtures and end-use parts on a uPrint machine, which isn't a huge investment for a starting point.”
Dan Walmsley, Strakka Racing Team Principal, concurs; he told TCT how 3D printing was essential in allowing the DOME S103 LMP2 to compete in motorsport’s toughest endurance race, Le Mans 24: “We had a few handling issues during testing so we started to refine and develop all the components, not only did 3D printing become a rapid solution towards reengineering the car but also the accuracy of build.
“For example, the profile of the dive planes on the front of the car is very sensitive to the performance so we had lots of iterations, all of the tooling was done using 3D printing. This meant that we could get iteration in a matter of days whereas a traditional lead time for a carbon composite part like that is 6-7 weeks.”
Rapid Prototyping still king
Design Reality, a design consultancy based not too far away from TCT Towers in North Wales, are famed for its General Service Respirator design used by the British Armed Forces, they have been using 3D printing to prototype since the company’s inception in 2000.
“We’re a 15 year old company who brought an SLA machine back in 2000,” explained Creative Director, Wyn Jones. “We used to employ a few people in a workshop for finishing parts but the benefits of our Stratasys Connex 3 machine mean it really is as simple as a 2D printer”
By having a printer in house Design Reality has found that they win more work for highly classified projects like the aforementioned gas mask.
"We’ve just bought a new premises so are expanding to twice the size,” detailed Jones. “We've divided up our ground space into a workshop for prototyping on the ground floor and design on the top level. We've got a Stratasys Connex 3, we've got an Objet Eden260VS, we have vacuum casting, we have a CNC machine, we're realising that the prototyping part of our business is now so big and important that being able to dedicate a whole floor to it essential."
Tool good to be true
It is the printing of jigs and fixtures, or as Todd Grimm put it in his column this time last year, the ‘mundane’ use for additive technologies that Stratasys want to shout from the rooftops about most.
British injection moulding company, Rutland plastics, have been in that industry for over 50 years and in order to stay ahead of the game they see it as crucial to develop and implement new techniques. Rutland traditionally made approximately 100 new jigs and fixtures annually from aluminium on its CNC milling machines. This process cost $1,500 per piece or $150,000 per year; it also meant that the company was precluded from using at least one of its machines to generate revenue for 300 business days.
By using a PolyJet machine, purchased originally for rapid prototyping projects, to produce the jigs and fixtures Rutland was able to reduce the cost of by 40% with a timesaving of 66% as well as freeing up the time for external customers on the CNC machine.
“Tooling is the hidden star of 3D printing,” explained Nicole Clement. “Of course there is a limited market at the moment for end-use parts but everyone can use it for tooling, people love lightweight tools, with less waste that are faster to produce, the option to achieve that is 3D printing. In automotive they can have one tool in the shop, a tool in an engineer’s pocket, a tool for spares because the cost is so low.”
“We see this as a vertical across all industries,” she added.
All under one roof
At the coming formnext powered by TCT exhibition in Frankfurt, Stratasys are set to have possibly the largest ever stand at an additive manufacturing show. Its, integrated solution approach includes displays by subsidiaries MakerBot, Solidscape, Stratasys Strategic Consultancy and Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, extending the value proposition to their customers on a larger scale.
Andy Middleton, President, Stratasys, EMEA, explained: “The shape of Stratasys’ offering to the marketplace has expanded considerably in recent times, as has the range of solutions, systems and services we are able to offer customers. We believe that we are now better placed than ever to deliver customers additive manufacturing solutions throughout the value chain – regardless of their size.”
This statement echoes the thoughts of his colleague Nicole Clement at TCT who throughout the whole conversation kept coming back to the technologies’ benefits to SMEs, particularly in Europe:
“From an investment point-of-view China and the US will soon surpass Europe in 3D printing terms. Europe has a large traditional manufacturing base. I t is important we speak to those people to show them what this technology can bring not only to new manufacturing but traditional manufacturing too. If you get across that this technology can save time and money I think opportunities will be huge .”
And that to Stratasys is why trade shows remain an important part of the calendar, they are a chance for SMEs to come and see what is possible, to look, feel and ask questions to understand how they can revolutionise their workflows now.