Building Trust in Nontraditional ManufacturingFri, 09/01/2017 - 13:40
Mexico is falling behind when it comes to advanced manufacturing-technology integration. Companies are not yet aware of all the different technologies they can incorporate into their facilities, creating significant potential for businesses that offer nontraditional manufacturing solutions, according to Victor Ruiz, Managing Director of 3D Systems Latin America.
“Additive manufacturing was previously considered too costly and imprecise for mass production,” says Ruiz. “Now, it has become a complement to traditional manufacturing processes.” Taking plastic injection as an example, traditional manufacturing processes for a certain component require not only the design of the part but also of its mold. This must be validated through a series of tests and once approved, manufactured components must go through quality and measurement validation. These steps involve iterations that lengthen the process, incurring added costs for the company.
With 3D printing there is no added tooling required. The component is designed according to its final measurements and if adjustment is needed, designs can easily be changed in the modeling phase. There are still limitations, especially considering the time difference between traditional manufacturing and additive manufacturing, but these alternatives are gaining trust. In its Global 3D Printing Report of 2016, EY highlights that approximately 29.7 percent of the companies in the automotive and aerospace segment use 3D printing for end-component production, while 21.6 percent use additive manufacturing in tooling production. At the same time, according to 3D Systems’ estimates, the additive manufacturing sector has grown at a rate of 30 percent since 2012 and Ruiz’s projections are for the industry to maintain that same level of growth at least until 2025.
Additive manufacturing has so far been limited to the production of low-volume components and prototypes. However, Ruiz says the process does not refer to a single technology. According to the Loughborough University in the UK, there are seven different types of additive manufacturing: material extrusion, powder bed fusion, material jetting, binder jetting, directed energy deposition, VAT photopolymerization and sheet lamination. Although 3D printing is the commonly used name for these technologies, “depending on their needs, companies can choose exact finishing solutions for assembly tests or more rough finishing alternatives for first-concept modeling used in marketing campaigns,” says Ruiz.
Having already conquered the design and prototyping market, 3D Systems’ goal is to move into the volume production market. “All our investments are focused on developing affordable equipment that can deliver faster results,” says Ruiz. The company has developed its Figure 4 manufacturing cell to deliver ready-to-use pieces from a photo-sensitive resin. “There are already companies testing our Figure 4 solution,” says Ruiz. The company has established business relationships with OEMs including GM, Volkswagen, Nissan and Ford, and suppliers such as Continental and Hella.
Technology has been one of the main reasons behind 3D Systems’ success but Ruiz says the company has a global strategy to move beyond that. Companies expect to improve their capabilities after introducing new equipment to their plants and they expect a return on the investment. More than an equipment manufacturer, 3D Systems wants to become a consulting partner for its clients, helping them understand and incorporate advanced manufacturing techniques into their operations. “We help clients analyze how our equipment can best support their operations by saving resources, shortening development cycles or simplifying production,” Ruiz says.
One of 3D Systems’ strategies to make its operations more appealing is the implementation of adequate 3D-modeling and 3D-scanning technology. The company has developed its own software platforms to meet these needs. For 3D printing, the company created the 3D Sprint and 3DXpert software. Regarding modeling, scanning and measurement control, 3D Systems launched the Geomagic software family. Finally, for machining and tooling design for molds and dies, the company’s solutions are GibbsCAM and Cimatron. After installation of both hardware and software, the company offers the necessary training to use the equipment. “We provide frequent training to our clients and we also offer certifications for companies that need them to incorporate their operations into the production chain,” says Ruiz.