LimeLite is an Australian company who manufacture their own lamps and light fittings. But they didn’t start out that way. Paul Hearne, the founder of LimeLite, set up the business as a reseller. Ambitions to take the business to another level led him to attend a seminar on 3D printing at Swinburne University. He realised there and then the potential of additive manufacturing for manufacturing custom products, in particular how it could help build more customised lamps at lower cost in comparison to having them injection moulded.
The idea was to manufacture lighting appliances in-house that matched the ideas architects have for interiors. The first project was set up in collaboration with industrial designers working at Swinburne University. The “On Track” project saw through the manufacture of a new range of light fittings that were entirely 3D printed. Once these hit the market, Hearne set out to expand the project into a full-scale operation. This led him to Zortrax 3D printers.
The investment in Zortrax 3D printers came following a successful trial of the technology. Hearne wanted his company to get into the decorative lighting market with its own products. He also wanted to do this cost-effectively so as to create a return as soon as possible. Nigel Brockbank, LimeLite’s chief designer and 3D printing specialist, estimated the tooling costs with traditional manufacturing to be around $40,000. Brockbank wanted 3D printing to enter the fold and provide design flexibility, so they could manufacture fittings that would solve people’s problems.
“Recently we’ve had a customer who wanted to buy one of our lamps, but with a slightly changed design,” says Brockbank, “The lamp had a visible heat sink at the back and the customer wanted it covered. With traditional manufacturing technologies we would have to pay for retooling just to make the casing longer to cover the heat sink. With 3D printers we could adjust in a couple of hours. To give an example, Philips introduced a new sensor we wanted to use in one of our lamps. To have the lamp made with this new sensor integrated into its design would take weeks or months if we were to do this with injection moulding. With 3D printers we could integrate this sensor in 3 days”.
Design flexibility has been achieved with 3D printing. It allows the team to develop products and iterate models quickly. They use their ‘farm’ (a series of Zortrax 3D printers) to manufacture two collections of lighting: On Track and Pendant. The shades are entirely 3D printed. The farm has also helped the team integrate Philips sensors into the Linear range.
“We have opened an option for customers to come with their own architects and discuss the lighting made for a particular interior”, says Brockbank, “Then we will make a model suitable for 3D printing, make a prototype, and have it delivered to the customer to see if they are happy with it”. After which, if they are happy with it, a production run is set up. This process enables LimeLite to design products to their customer’s exact requirements.
They also use 3D printing for other tasks, says Brockbank, “This is not the full capacity as we usually have some of the printers committed to other tasks like making jigs or prototyping new lamps. Typically, 20 machines are used for production and 10 are doing other things.” Applying 3D printing across the production line has enabled LimeLite to benefit from rapid prototyping and small series production. These manufacturing processes would not have been possible with injection moulding, at least not without additional expense.
The team are very happy with the quality and consistency of their Zortrax 3D printers, “We are happy with the quality of surfaces and consistency of Zortrax 3D printers. Currently we see no reasons for post-processing, but it is not to say it is not going to change in the future”, Brockbank claims. The farm consists of nearly 30 Zortrax M200 and M200 Plus 3D printers and it may grow more in the future to cope with increased demand. And the cost to manufacture parts? It stands at around $1 per part, and sometimes it’s below that. That low cost means the team isn’t constrained by budget.
3D Printers: Zortrax M200 (succeeded by the M300), M200 Plus
This information was first published on the Zortrax website. If you liked this case study, you can find more like it at our product design page here.