How to scale up to serial 3D printing production

Posted on 7 Jun 2018 by The Manufacturer

Efficient serial production – true additive manufacturing – is the real game changer. Four case studies demonstrate how scaling up to serial 3D printing production represents a huge opportunity for manufacturers.

Labman cuts lead times with AM production

Labman Automation use 3DP parts in their custom laboratory automation and robotics equipment.
Labman Automation use 3DP parts in their custom laboratory automation and robotics equipment.

Yorkshire-based Labman Automation creates custom laboratory automation and robotics equipment; this fast-growing small business has been working with Materialise for three years to produce bespoke parts for its machines.

“Our job is to be creative and the design freedom of 3D printing gives us free rein to come up with interesting and novel solutions for our customers,” says Rob Hodgson, Inventor at Labman Automation.

“Made the traditional way, these designs would usually be unfeasible, engineering or cost-wise. Things like manifolds that would be an absolute nightmare to produce otherwise, are very quick and easy with additive manufacturing.”

The rapid development times are particularly attractive, with the option to simply upload a CAD file and receive the first part ten days later. Additive manufacturing in small batches has helped cut the lead time for one of Labman’s own machines from 12 weeks down to four. Materialise’s feedback and suggestions help confirm the parts are strong enough for the application and optimised for 3D printing.

This article first appeared in the June issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Scaling up to serial 3D printing production represents a huge opportunity for manufacturers. James Lawson recently spoke to Materialise to find out how to take advantage of it.

For small batch production, Labman now specifies printer head direction, the part’s orientation on the printer and other fixed parameters that ensure each part has exactly the same texture and quality.

“We use the printed components on our finished production machines and they do the job very well,” says Hodgson. “With a material like Alumide, you can tap it or put in nutserts so it’s perfect for making complex metal parts. If that part wears or breaks in the future, we can just have it made again very quickly.”

“Ten years ago, 3D printing was a novelty for prototyping only and we wouldn’t use it in one of our systems,” he continues. “Now, the strength and finish quality are more than good enough to go straight onto our robots. These are multi-million-pound machines and 3D printed parts enhance their aesthetics.”

Co-creation opens up additive manufacturing to start-ups

Packed with sophisticated electronics yet light and comfortable enough to wear all day, Iristick’s smart safety glasses are the first ever to be 3D printed. Users can stream video or call up technical data via the internet. Built-in tools like voice control and barcode scanning helps them execute industrial tasks like quality control and field maintenance completely hands-free.

Irstick’s smart safety glasses are the first ever to be 3Dprinted.

Only two years ago, Iristick was a small start-up looking for a way to develop its innovative product and ready it for production. Together with the designers at Achilles Design, Iristick decided to look at going into production with 3D printing. This gave a faster time-to-market and avoided expensive injection moulding tooling.

“Materialise’s head of R&D showed us how they were already manufacturing highend fashion glasses with very good quality finishing,” says Riemer Grootjans, Iristick’s CEO. “We realised then that we could not only use Materialise for initial prototyping, but also employ 3DP for small series production too.”

After verifying that the 3DP material – PA12 plastic – was strong enough for safety glasses, Iristick and Achilles Design worked with Materialise to optimise the design for 3DP production. This often meant splitting single components into multiple parts to speed fabrication and reduce costs. There are over 700 parts in the glasses, of which many are 3D-printed.

Additive manufacturing creates exactly the right internal voids for the electronics and speakers. It also produces a lighter set of glasses with multiple adjustability for a precise fit – another world first.

Beyond the product itself, series additive manufacturing gives Iristick a whole new agile business model. It can iterate the design while still producing glasses ready for sale to end clients.

If the technology components change, the internal structures can be adapted. If one customer wants a different colour or surface texture, it just changes the design slightly and prints as many as required.

“It’s almost a miracle,” says Grootjans. “At the start, we were an unknown company with only a few drawings and a rough prototype. Now we have a product that’s unique in so many ways.”

Additive Manufacturing with Airbus

Materialise first began manufacturing plastic parts for Airbus’s A350 XWB in 2015. This year, it started printing small batches of cabin spacer panels fitted alongside overhead storage compartments. Used in upgrades of existing aircraft, these parts often have to be adapted or redesigned.

Plastic cabin spacer panel used alongside overhead storage compartments in a Finnair Airbus A320.

With low volumes and tight timescales, this application is perfect for additive manufacturing. Compared with the original design, intended for conventional production methods, the 3D-printed panels are 15% lighter.

Made from Airbus-certified flame-retardant material, component production runs exactly in line with Airbus’s own FDM (fused deposition modelling) specifications. Its detailed requirements run from paint shade and thickness to printer maintenance and personnel training. A new air-conditioned printer room allows precise control of the printing environment.

With two years spent in development before production started, every process is tracked in line with EN9100 aerospace quality control standards. Regular Airbus audits check for compliance and the panels have to pass Airbus’s rigorous cabin trim and finish checks.

“We can handle incredibly tight lead times, but the foundations for that lie in a carefully honed quality management system,” says Materialise’s Quality Manager Geert Appeltans. “The spacer panels produced for Airbus are more than 3D prints, they’re the output of an entire quality system.”

Phillips: 3D Printing for the production line

Philips Lighting worked closely with Materialise to produce two specialised production line components: a lamp holder bracket and a redesigned suction gripper.

The design evolution of a Philips braclet: (L-R), the original part, 3DP first design, 3DP final design.

A critical element of the assembly line, the multi-part brackets were prone to failure. Breakages could take up to two hours to fix, with new brackets regularly required.

Materialise co-engineered and metal printed a new one-piece bracket, reducing time-consuming part assembly and removing weld line pressure points completely.  In the first three months of use, the re-imagined bracket didn’t break once.

The new suction gripper that Phillips and Materialise co-created enables robotic automation, replacing a human machine operator that physically placed parts in a 12-bore gripper, applied materials and removed finished units.  Its lower weight has reduced cycle time and increased lamp production.  Together, the two new parts deliver annual cost savings of around €89,000.

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