Additive Manufacturing

MAR 2018

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING is the magazine devoted to industrial applications of 3D printing and digital layering technology. We cover the promise and the challenges of this technology for making functional tooling and end-use production parts.

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Page 34 of 67

AM / 3D-Printed Accommodations 33 the body's joints and cartilage, but sometimes the skin, heart, eyes, lungs and blood vessels. For Wheeler, the disease had manifested primarily in her hands and feet, slowly disfiguring the joints and sending electric waves of pain each time she'd grip a tool or crimp a wire. "It was a devastating feeling," she re- calls. "The pain was really, really bad, but add to that the stress of thinking that I might not be able to work anymore...I've worked since I've been old enough to hold a job, and not work- ing was not an option for me." It was around the time of Wheeler's diagnosis that Liberty's project engineer, George Allman, along with the company's owners and senior management, first began kicking around the idea of adding a new technology to Liberty's arsenal. (Allman is his real name, but to protect privacy, the names of employees dealing with medical issues have been changed.) The assembly work at the 150,000-square-foot facility often required custom tools and jigs, all of which had to be conventionally manu- factured with wood or metal. By 3D-printing these parts, the group hoped, Liberty might be able to save time and money. The company finally purchased and installed its first printer, a Stratasys uPrint SE, in 2013. Liberty's first additively manufactured products were typical for an operation just beginning to utilize the technology. The company prototyped parts for a handful of clients and printed simple fixtures, jigs and holders that could be put to use at vari- ous stations along the assembly line. After a few months online, the printer was meeting everyone's modest expectations—saving time and money for both the company and its clients. But those expectations were surpassed quickly in ways that no one had imagined. A novel use of additive manufacturing was about to be discovered at Liberty Electronics—one that would benefit not only the company's bottom line, but also inspire and aid many of its 350-plus employees. It all started the day Wheeler confided in Allman about her struggles. She'd been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she said, and all of the gripping, bending and torqueing she had to do on the assembly lines was becoming more painful by the day. She worried she might not last long at the company. "I've noticed all of the tools that you've created for the lines," she told the engineer. "Can you make something for me?" Career Opportunities Liberty Electronics is a contract manufacturing shop that produces high-end assemblies, primarily for the military and aerospace industries. There are different terminologies used to describe companies like Liberty: wire shops, harness shops, assembly houses, wire-and-layout facilities. You won't see a missile system or an aircraft on Liberty's shop floor, but you will see dozens of employees assembling and testing wired components for them. Most of Liberty's completed assemblies become integrated with other subassemblies before being installed into a final product. From electrical wiring harnesses, to box-builds, to electromechanical products, the name of the game at Liberty is low volume, high value and high quality. When the opportunity arose to implement additive manufacturing at the shop, management at the company weighed the initial capital expense against promises of the technology. Additive manufacturing is awash with tales of high-tech efficiency—saved money, or time, or both—and it was this potential that initially guided the engineers at Liberty. Custom 3D-printed prototypes were delivered to customers in a manner of hours rather than weeks. Customer- supp lied models were printed, and if the models contained flaws, those flaws were discovered almost immediately. These kinds of stories are grist for the mill within AM, and for good reason. But when Wheeler confided in Allman about her struggles with rheu- matoid arthritis, she did so in a way that appealed not only to Allman's heart, but also to the engineer's analytical mind. Wheel- er was struggling with a common military spec connector casually known as a 38-triple-9, or a D38999. Piecing together this expensive aerospace connector assembly requires a firm grip in the palm of one hand, while the other hand applies torque and pressure to the wires that extend from the opposite end of the device. Allman took measure- ments of both the device and Wheeler's hand and returned to his desk. A 38-triple-9, or a D38999 connector. Piecing together this expensive aero- space connector assembly requires a firm grip in the palm of one hand, while the other hand applies torque and pressure to the wires that extend from the opposite end of the device. The same D38999 connector with a custom 3D-printed grip. To create the grip, George Allman took mea- surements of both the device and the employee's hand and drew up a prototype in SolidWorks to increase the circumference on the gripping end of the connector while also lock- ing it into place. From first measure- ments to the finished print, the part took only three hours to create.

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