3D printing and advanced manufacturing. Can the two fit together in repairing factory parts?
by Heat Recruitment
By Steve Auburn
The manufacturing landscape is moving fast. Responding to a shift in consumer demand towards more customised products, advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing are growing increasingly popular with manufacturers seeking to enhance cost efficiency and sustainability.
So far, this cutting-edge production technology has proved nothing less than revolutionary: from 3D printed athletic shoes to custom made cars and even a NASA rocket engine, additive manufacturing is finally coming of age to deliver the previously unimaginable.
Gone are the days of hype and experimentation – in 2018, roughly two thirds of US manufacturers are harnessing the power of 3D printing to drive efficiency.
Nevertheless, most of us still marvel at the concept of 3D printing, and marvel we should: no longer is this technology only capable for prototyping, it has now matured to play a fundamental role throughout the full product lifecycle.
Beyond products themselves, 3D printing offers manufacturers the ability to repair and overhaul their own factory parts while making significant cost savings. A match made in heaven? We think so.
3D printing: a game-changer for factories
As is always the case with new technology, early adopters are pioneering transformation in the sector by showcasing the benefits of using 3D printing for quick and cost-effective repairs of machinery parts. The Chocolate Factory in Rotterdam is doing just this.
When a metal component in the company’s packing machine started to show signs of wear and tear, the initial plan was to replace the faulty part. However, this was no one and done exercise: soon, constantly replacing the component and repairing any damage caused by malfunctions was proving expensive and time consuming.
To make matters worse, the parts they needed were in short supply: before long, The Chocolate Factory were investigating the potential of 3D printing to replicate the faulty component. The result exceeded expectations: not only did they see a 75 percent reduction in lead time, the additive manufacturing had modified the design to make some features thicker in order to increase overall part strength.
Advanced manufacturing meets 3D printing
While the concept of punching in a design to a machine to watch it fabricate the object seemingly from scratch is impressive, most additive manufacturing machines require much more work than simply pushing the “print” button. In order to create complex shapes from plastic, metal or ceramics, significant data prep and post-processing is essential in ensuring the parts come out as planned.
The solution? According to leaders in the field, automation and advanced robotics have the potential to increase throughput, speed up production and in turn, reduce the cost of operation and boost production revenue.
In one example, Brooklyn-based Voodoo Manufacturing explored the possibilities of introducing automation to the workflow to simplify the post-printing process. Aptly dubbed ‘Project Skywalker’, the company have installed a robotic arm next to a conveyor belt to remove prints from machines within a single cell. It then deposits the object onto the conveyor belt and places a fresh bed into the system, thus enabling the cell to operate around the clock without human intervention.
Already, the deployment of this technology has proved groundbreaking for Voodoo Manufacturing. With a 3x productivity boost for all machines assisted by robotics, Project Skywalker has demonstrated the vast benefits of combining 3D printing with automation. With additive manufacturing now being used to create engineering-grade parts, steps must be taken to make the process more scalable. While 3D printing alone has already proved revolutionary, it won’t be too long before automation plays a critical part in the process to drive efficiency and drastically increase productivity.
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