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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MARCH 2018 Additive Manufacturing FEATURE / Polymer Additive Manufacturing 34 Using the CAD software platform SolidWorks, he began drawing a prototype adapter that increased the circumference on the gripping end of the D38999 while also locking it into place. Within three hours after their conversation, Allman had printed a custom tool for Wheeler. She was ecstatic. "It was wonderful," she says. "When he brought that first tool out to me, that was a great day. It saved a lot of time with all of the work I have to do on that connector, but it was more than that. It was knowing that even if I get worse, there are still things that can be done to help me continue to do my job. Knowing that they are willing to make adaptations for me is just an amazing feeling." It didn't take long before word of Wheeler's custom fixture began to spread on the shop floor. Repetitive, precise actions that involve high degrees of force are routine on the assembly floor, and Allman began fielding more and more requests for 3D-printed parts. As the number of line operators using these custom tools at Liberty Electronics increased, so followed the tangible and intangible benefits to both the workers and to Liberty's bottom line. A cost savings analysis put together by Allman for manage- ment revealed numbers that were hard to believe. Minimum reduction in process time for a task: 50 to 65 percent. Increase in productivity for workers using these tools: up to 300 percent. Cost savings of printing the custom part versus outsourcing it for conventional tooling: 80 to 85 percent. Then there was the improved morale and increased scopes of work to consider. Higher employee retention. Increased precision and accuracy. It was determined that the uPrint SE paid for itself within the first four months of use. Following this success, management agreed to invest in a Stratasys Fortus 380 and an Objet30 Prime—larger, higher-capacity ma- chines with greater material capacities. Liberty continued to utilize additive manufacturing for clients' prototypes, "but there was a different side to it," Allman says. "I talk to other engineers in similar industries, and they have 3D printers that are printing cool parts for aerospace and prototypes and so on, and we do things like that as well. That's great, but in a way, it's almost traditional. I see a bigger impact for our production floor from an efficiency standpoint. If we want to make more money as a company and be more successful, we want to improve efficiencies and retain employees. We want to make accommodations. The machine doesn't care what it's making, but we do. We want to put some- thing into it that will help somebody out." The Iceberg Theory A long-term study by The Job Accommodation Network (known as JAN, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy) shows that workplace accommodations such as Liberty's are deeply impactful across the entire workplace. The study results were consistent across variables that measured both direct and indirect benefits, and it backed up Allman's analysis showing that the benefits Liberty received from its custom accommodations far out- weighed its investments in additive technologies. "Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving pro- ductivity and morale, reducing workers' compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity," it says. Mary Fletcher had been working at Liberty for a few months when she began to experience physical difficulties and the occasional on-the-job injury. One of Fletcher's typical assignments as an inspector involves a torque verification that requires her to apply five pounds of torque to each clamping position of a small electrical connector. The component is small yet contains numerous fasteners that require a precise and confirmed level of torque. Fletcher Another view of the D38999 connector with a different custom 3D-printed grip. 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. The 3D-printed grip has helped numerous employees at Liberty Electronics perform this task.

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