This piece was originally published in the March 2017 issue of electroindustry.
John Lefavour, Engineering Manager, Application Tooling Products, Burndy
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is a boon for manufacturers that strive to get product to market quickly and cost effectively.
Printing metal parts by direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or selective laser sintering (SLS) is on the rise. Advanced market sectors are taking advantage of this technology to reduce the number of components in an assembly and to make lighter products at lower cost. Through 3D printing, it has become easy to produce parts of complex geometries that could not otherwise be produced from conventional machining.
Printing plastic parts is now widely embraced by the consumer market. Consumer 3D printers start at about $300. Larger, more expensive units are readily available and well suited for business.
The application need and available budget are likely to heavily influence the buying decision. For example, if the application requires printing acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, which is a common thermoplastic polymer, a fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer may be a good choice.
Burndy, LLC, a manufacturer of electrical connectors and installation crimp tools, is benefiting from 3D printing capabilities. The process starts with a computer-aided design (CAD) model of a part. The CAD file (i.e., the part model) is processed in accordance with requirements for the 3D printer. The FDM printer is able to build the part with printing material such as ABS thermoplastic one layer at a time. Almost any geometry or shape can be printed. In some instances, additive manufacturing technology enables engineers to consolidate conventional machined parts into a single 3D-printed part, lowering the cost of the assembly.
Burndy engineers are bullish on 3D printing because it reduces the time to market for new products, since 3D printed parts enable quick design verification (fit, form, and, in some cases, function). Design verification and optimization are most beneficial early in the product development cycle but prior to the commitment of more expensive production tooling, such as investment cast molds, forging dies, plastic injection molds, and stamping dies.
3D-printed parts can be used to confirm that a particular design meets the customer’s requirement. This enables the customer to provide feedback on a particular design early in the new product development cycle.
In preparation for new products, manufacturing engineers can use the 3D-printed parts for reference while developing production tooling, machine fixtures, casting tooling, and injection mold tooling. For example, the 3D-printed ABS parts can be installed in the machining fixture in lieu of more costly conventional metal parts. The plastic parts can sometimes be machined in place of metal parts to prove-out computer numeric control programs and tooling.
3D printing technology is rapidly changing, with many types of printers available. Selecting a printer that is right sized for particular applications and budgetary needs can be a challenge. There is also post- processing equipment, which needs to be considered.
Finally, 3D printers can be office friendly and are an attractive showpiece for customer tours. Printed samples are inexpensive and make great customer takeaways.