Although 3D Printing has been formerly invented in 1982 and it is considered a well-established technology, yet it is still not very used at its full potential.
In this post I am going to describe how 3D printing can provide a huge competitive advantage in a shop floor environment, especially when new products must be developed.
There are different 3D printing technologies available on the market (7), each with its pros and cons. Here I would like to focus on Material Extrusion.
What is Material Extrusion?
Material Extrusion refers to any 3D printing process that builds up objects layer-by-layers by putting a semi-liquid material from a computer-controlled nozzle. The most widely extruded materials are thermoplastics that can be temporarily melted for output through a nozzle. The material extrusion of thermoplastics was invented by company Stratasys that labelled the technology ‘fused deposition modelling’ or ‘FDM’. The term FDM has now become commonly used to refer to the extrusion of thermoplastics, and even to material extrusion technologies more generally.
Most of the 3D Printers available on the market for Makers exploit this technology. On Amazon, for example, you can buy good printers for 250 up to 5000€, depending on the building volume, number of nozzles, resolution and other factors. Just for your understanding, a printer with a 250x250x250mm and a 0,1 mm resolution can be bought for about 250€.
What can I do with a cheap 3D printer?
Opportunities are endless. But let’s consider the following application, based on my past experience. Let’s assume you are producing a new component that must be inspected by a CMM. It implies you have to:
- Design and build a fixture to hold the component
- Program the CMM to define paths and touching points of your probe
1. Design and Build a fixture
Cost and time really depend on the purpose and complexity of your fixture, but in general you have to go throughout the following step:
- Design (1 week)
- Build (3-4 weeks)
- Deliver (2-3 days)
- Test (1-2 days)
The overall process takes about 5-6 weeks. What about the Build costs?
- Material (normally steel / aluminum)
- Fixturing for NC machining (sometimes special fixtures are needed, increasing the overall cost)
- Creating the Part Program
- Labour cost
- Final inspection (is the part conform to the drawing?)
It is not uncommon that the overall cost is between 500€ and 2500€ for a fixture, depending on size and quantity. Consider that in new product development there are many iterations, and that your fixture could not fit to the new design anymore.
2. Program the CMM
Although nowadays a part program can be created offline, it is still a good practice to verify it on real hardware. This implies the availability of the fixture and of the component to be inspected. Thus, the part program can’t be tested until the First Article has been produce. Most of the time, it is too late!
By using a 3D printer, we can achieve the same functionality required by a steel/aluminum fixture, but with the following benefits:
- The building process time can be reduced up to 90%, depending on the size. Typically, we are talking about hours, maybe 1-2 days top. Which means that you can spend more valuable time in designing and optimizing your concept;
- The material cost can be reduced of about the same or more. PLA or ABS cost about 20€/kg. Assuming a fixture of 1 kg, it is 20€ material cost (but probably is less, since you can optimize your fixture with hollows and ribs to save material, time and weight);
- You don’t need any NC machine, therefore no depreciation cost, additional tooling, fixturing, programming and labour cost;
- No delivery time, assuming that you have your 3D printer in house;
- Need to assemble your fixture? In most cases, this is not necessary anymore, saving additional time.
What about programming? Now that your fixture is available, you need your final article. You can print it with a 0.1 mm accuracy, which is perfectly fine for the scope. Thus, in a couple of days and with few extra money, you have your hardware to test you program, which means that your final lead time / time-to-market is cut off by the CMM testing phase.
In this post, I introduce you to some benefits of 3D printing material extrusion technology. Indeed, cheap printers can lead to important time and cost saving in a real production environment. Taking the example of a CMM fixturing, we can estimate up to 90% time saving and about the same in cost saving.
What other 3d printing technologies shall you potentially use and how to get benefits from them in your production site?
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