Machining very large parts such as shafts 12″ in diameter is a time-intensive and expensive endeavour. Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, specialise in manufacturing extremely large parts for railroads and the transport industry. They also make off-highway vehicles for mining, industry and construction. They became interested in large-format 3D printing as a tool to fabricate prototypes and develop parts.
There isn’t a 3D printer on the market capable of manufacturing 1:1 scale parts of the size Progress Rail makes, but with the 3D Platform Workbench they are able to fabricate quarter-scale models, with those scaled-down models reaching approximately 700mm in diameter.
The quarter-scale models are just as useful as full-size prototypes and a lot easier to work with. The team use these parts to set up their machining tools and help develop metrology strategies and standards. Progress Rail utilises a 3D printer to
help them incorporate their ‘5S’ system. ‘Standardise’ is one of the S’s in that system, and they used their 3D printer to set new standards for critical measurements for machining large parts.
What does this mean? Simply, that 3D printing enabled them to develop a standard for measurements in their machined parts. This development was handled completely in-house on the 3D Platform Workbench.
While no ROI studies have been conducted by Progress Rail since the adoption of 3D printing, anecdotally the company is extremely happy with the speed and efficiency of their 3D printer and how it has allowed them to produce custom parts at speed. In particular, they are happy with how it has enabled them to develop metrology standards (metrology is the study of measurement) and create standard, reliable units of measurement for end-use parts.
Now when the team at Progress Rail try something new, they include 3D printing in the design and development process. It enables them to try new things and focus on challenging aspects of a single part at a time. They can print one section of a larger part and test it, so any potential issues are solved before final production.
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3D Printer: 3D Platform 3D printers.
Material used: Multiple, mainly PLA and ABS. You can find materials here.
This information was first published as a case study by 3D Platform. You can read the official case study to find out more about Progress Rail and their use of 3D printing.