Identifying opportunities for improvement on the production line is never a one-off exercise. As manufacturers increase their output, they are forced into a continuous cycle of improvement to keep quality high.
One of the bottlenecks manufacturers face is the equipment they use itself. Whether we’re talking about milling machines, lathes, drilling machines, ironworkers, blowing machines or injection moulding machines, no mechanical machine can escape the concept of time, which sees efficiency reduce and parts fail.
This presents a problem because legacy parts are not always freely available, and in many cases, they have to be specially made by a third-party. This is an expensive task. It is not unusual for a single replacement part to cost hundreds or thousands of pounds to have made. Even worse, the lead time can be quite ridiculous, with a 6-week manufacturing time the norm for metal parts that are machined. Some lead times stretch into months.
This is the penalty manufacturers have to pay for production line equipment that is no longer supported by the OEM. But a solution can be found with additive manufacturing, as one tool manufacturer found out with our help.
We were recently approached by a hand-held tool manufacturer who was looking to identify opportunities for improvement on the production line. In particular, they were interested in 3D printing as a potential solution to the problem highlighted above – legacy parts that were expensive to replace and not freely available.
Prior to our arrival, we asked our client to think about areas of possible improvement in their production line. Often, these are bottlenecks, recurring problems, and high costs that have spiralled because of production inefficiency.
Our client identified a metal part on their production line that was very expensive to replace, but also very high-wear. The shelf-life of the metal part was only a few months and the part was not freely available. It had to be specially made and it was taking 6-weeks to make. Due to this, they had a regular order for the part so they could maintain uptime. This cycle was costing them a lot of money. We knew right away that 3D printing could help, so we used this to develop a business case for our client to purchase a 3D printer.
We performed a 3D scan of the original metal part to create an accurate 3D model of it in software. This is the starting point for parts like this because a scan accurately captures the dimensions and scale of the part.
Once it is in software, the design can then be played with and tweaked. This is often necessary to accommodate the 3D printer itself, but it is not unusual for legacy parts to be made better over time to increase machine efficiency.
Moving back to this particular case, we decided the best 3D printer for the job was the Markforged Mark Two, which can fabricate parts that are stronger than 6061 aluminium with the correct composite reinforcement.
The Mark Two is a dual extrusion 3D printer that prints engineering-grade Nylon or Onyx as its primary build material. Onyx is part nylon, part chopped carbon fibre – it offers greater stiffness and better dimensional accuracy than standard nylon. Parts printed in either material can then be reinforced with continuous strands of fibreglass, Kevlar, or carbon fibre for extra strength and durability.
For this particular use case, the new part was manufactured in Onyx with additional Carbon Fibre reinforcement. On its own, Onyx creates parts that are 40% stiffer than ABS and just over twice as strong with the toughness of nylon. When reinforced with additional carbon fibre, parts can exceed the strength of aluminium, with a tensile strength in excess of 700 MPa and a flexural strength in excess of 470 MPa.
Once manufactured, the part was sent to our customer for testing.
The test piece was a dimensionally-accurate reproduction of the original part, so it was installed into the machine without issue. It functioned as intended right away, and over a period of several months, it became clear it wasn’t wearing in the same way as the original metal part. The wear was far less. In fact, that single replacement part lasted three times as long with very little visual wear.
This saved our customer money very quickly. Over the course of a year, they have calculated a saving of £26,000 for just one 3D printed part alone. The huge 6-week lead time for replacement parts has also been cut to a few days.
By moving the manufacture of parts in-house and replacing metal with carbon fibre, our client has been able to make various improvements on the production line. Any high-wear metal part that can be built within the Mark Two’s build volume is a candidate for 3D printing. In the future, we expect to see more manufacturers adopt additive manufacturing as a way to improve output and reduce costs.
3D printer: Markforged Mark Two
If you enjoyed this case study, you can find more like it on our case studies page. We’ve also published a handy Markforged Mark Two guide and a Markforged materials guide for those interested in finding out more about Markforged’s unique products.