Unilever cuts production times with 3D printing

Posted on 22 Jan 2015 by The Manufacturer

3D printing and additive manufacturing company Stratasys is paving the way in producing technology that has the ability to dramatically reduce manufacturing lead times. 

Today it’s been announced that consumer goods business, Unilever has cut lead times for prototype parts by 40% since introducing Stratasys’ PolyJet 3D printing technology into its manufacturing process.

The company which typically produces a run of around 50 units for a wide variety of prototype parts such as bottle caps and closures, and toilet rim blocks, and encompasses key household brands such as Surf and Domestos, got a Stratasys Objet500 Connex Multi-material 3D Production System to produce injection mould tools for its household care and laundry goods divisions.

Utilising 3D printed injection moulding tools, the company is now able to produce prototype parts in their final material for functional and consumer tests at a significantly faster rate than traditional tooling methods.

Stefano Cademartiri, R&D, CAD and prototyping specialist at Unilever, commented: “Before, we would have to wait several weeks to receive prototype parts using our traditional tooling process; not only would this lengthen lead times, it would also increase costs if iterations were required,.

“With 3D printing we’re now able to apply design iterations to the mould within a matter of hours, enabling us to produce prototype parts in final materials such as polypropylene, 40% faster than before.”

Unilever is able to maintain the quality of traditional manufacturing processes whilst operating at a higher temperature and reducing costs and turnaround time, due to printing injection mould tools in Digital ABS, chosen for its high temperature resistance and toughness.

To produce realistic thermoforming mould prototypes using ABS-M30 production-grade plastic that can endure functional testing environments, Unilever also houses a Stratasys FDM-based Fortus 360mc 3D Production System.

Cademartiri, continued: “Since 3D printing these parts ourselves, we’ve reduced lead times in the conceptual phase by approximately 35%. The technology has enhanced our overall manufacturing process, allowing us to evaluate our designs quickly and eliminate those that are not suitable, before committing significant investment towards mass production.”

Nadav Sella, senior manager of manufacturing tools at Stratasys, added: “With the development of some of our recent, more durable materials, our customers can now enjoy flexibility in their choice of methods to create their manufacturing tools and test designs in their final production materials, before investing in costly metal tools.”