3D Printing Replacement Legacy Parts That Can No Longer Be Sourced

3d printing packaging arms

We recently helped a pet food manufacturer modernise their manufacturing facility by introducing additive manufactured parts to their production line. Our customer, a European pet food manufacturer, was interested in 3D printing as a way to manufacture parts for their machines in-house. Their equipment was fitted with legacy parts that could no longer be sourced. These were breaking regularly causing downtime in the process.

We visited our customer on site and walked the production line with them to identify areas where additive manufacturing could be helpful. One area for improvement we both identified was the packaging line. This was using legacy packaging arms that were no longer available off-the-shelf. Every time one of these arms broke (which was happening once a week at least) a period of downtime ensued at a cost of £5,000 per day. The poor machine shop technicians were also tasked with welding the parts back together, a futile endeavour since the joint is never as strong.

The 3D printing Solution

We recommended the Markforged Mark Two 3D printer to produce parts strong enough for the production line. This printer 3D prints parts in nylon or Onyx with the ability to add continuous strands of carbon fibre, fibreglass or Kevlar for additional strength. Parts reinforced with a composite can be even stronger than 6061 aluminium.

packaging arm cad

Using the physical packing arms as a reference, our in-house application design team designed a set of new parts in CAD. These were a like-for-like match with the original metal parts. We then 3D printed them on the Mark Two using Onyx and isotropic reinforced carbon fibre. The cost for the set was just £45. The parts slotted into the machine perfectly and were put to work without the need for any post-processing. They lasted four months before showing any signs of wear, whereas the original metal parts only lasted a few weeks.

The material these parts were printed in, Onyx, is a unique blend of nylon and chopped carbon fibre. It is exceptionally tough and abrasion resistant by itself, but by also introducing isotropic reinforced carbon fibre, we were able to create parts stronger than machined parts. The parts are highly resilient to mechanical stress and common chemicals, greases and oils. Carbon fibre has the best strength-to-weight ratio of any filament in the Markforged range, and it also boasts the highest thermal conductivity. This makes it perfect for mechanical applications.

Mark Two Markforged

By changing their legacy machined aluminium parts to 3D printed ones, our customer has reduced downtime from failing parts on the packaging line significantly. The impact has been so great they are now looking to replace their entire assembly of solid, machined, aluminium parts using 3D printed composite parts. We are working with them now to identify these parts and hope to introduce them in the near future.

“The project scope is continually expanding as they begin to discover more and more opportunities for 3D printing across their lines,” says Josh Best, GoPrint3D’s applications engineer, “We are already at a stage of re-designing and supplying parts for the entire assembly on which the packaging arms are located.”

Other manufacturers can streamline their manufacturing capabilities and in many cases improve them with 3D printing. The replacement of legacy parts with new 3D printed ones as featured in this case study is but one application. 3D printing can be used to manufacture short run prototypes, packaging and tooling. It can even replace traditional manufacturing processes in the production of functional end-use parts. Mass customisation is also made possible with 3D printing, as is creating a virtual inventory of spare parts. The most obvious benefit though is improving assembly lines.

If you enjoyed this case study, you can find more like it on our case studies page

3D Printer: Mark Two (Enterprise).

Material used: Onyx, Carbon Fibre. The Markforged Mark Two Enterprise can also 3D print High-temp Fibreglass, Fibreglass, Nylon and Kevlar to suit a wide range of applications.