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 38 position, damage to equipment, and any legal costs or penalties resulting from the injury. These considerations weren't lost on Allman or senior management at Liberty. "An injury costs so much," Allman says, "but you don't see the underlying costs. If an operator injures herself and it costs $700 to go to the hospital, there's lost productivity, lost time, overtime, etc. So that $700 injury is all of the sudden a $10,000 injury." But what about employees who physically could not perform their job without these accommodations? From an employer's perspective, can you quantify the upfront costs? Is a cost analysis even a fair measurement of their worth? Ask Karen Graham. Empathy In Engineering Karen Graham is a 56-year-old production assembler at Liberty Electronics whose work often involves prepping electrical con- nectors. To do so, she removes the insulation from the end of a wire, crimps its end, and inserts it into a circular or rectangular connector. It's work that requires a level of precision that, in Graham's case, is made much more difficult because of her right hand, which never fully formed. She could perform the task, but it was an arduous, slow process. "It was very frustrating because I didn't feel like I was getting anything accomplished," Graham says. "Everybody else could grip onto it and adapt and screw it together. But I wasn't performing the job efficiently. It got to the point where I'd say I can't do that job because I can't hold the connector; it would be easier if someone else did it. So I went to my supervisor, who had bragged about how George had helped her out with a problem." "Karen hunted me down and grabbed me by the lapels," Allman jokes. Allman and Graham discussed her situation. Allman asked her to show him the most comfortable position of her hand. He took measurements of her smaller hand, drew up a design in SolidWorks, and 3D-printed a piece that resembles a simple sleeve. Karen Graham inserts her hand into the sleeve, the surface of which includes a fixed post that can engage with an adapter or a wrench. Today, Graham uses the custom piece daily. "I'm 56 years old," Graham says. "I left my previous job after 14 years to work for this company. I had just heard that they treated their employees well and the atmosphere was better. I was talking with a friend the other day who was saying that, at her age, she would never want to change jobs. She said, 'Who would want me? At my age people usually have arthritis or oth- er issues.' And I said, 'Well, I'm 56 and not that far from retiring, and I left a job and came here and it was the best move I ever made.' George understood. I don't know how he does it, but he knew what he could do in the machine and what I needed. Here, I'm considered a person." "I have been in this industry for years," Allman says, "and I can understand the job that our employees are trying to accomplish, whether it's loading a connector or stripping wires or cables. When an employee needs an accommodation, it's a matter of walking through a conversation. Is this going to be comfortable for you? Uncomfortable? Is it too large or too small? Just getting some organic input as far as what feels right and what works—that's the engineer side kicking in to the creative." Allman calls this process "empathy in engineering." And indeed, that intangible, hard-to-quantify process of making an accommodation for an employee—with or without a disabili- ty—is a big part of what drives this commitment from Liberty's leadership. But the direct benefits of what the company is doing for its employees through additive manufacturing are undeniable. Liberty has remarkably low turnover among its assemblers and operators. They're more productive, more precise and create higher quality work with increased speed. Morale is high, and there is an emotional connection between the assemblers and the engineers. "All of a sudden, people are talking with engineers a bit differently than they did before," Allman says. "The thing that Sarah Wheeler brought to our attention is that, although we are always trying to engineer an accommodation at the production level, 3D printing allows us to make these accommodations very personal. Sometimes I'll be prototyp- ing a high-end commercial part for an aircraft, and the value of that is measured differently than creating a custom tool that makes someone's life better. I want to encourage engineers that they can make anything. I think Sarah gave us an awakening." Liberty Electronics production assembler Karen Graham shows off the 3D- printed custom sleeve that helps her hold in place tools she uses to prepare electrical connectors. The job involves removing insulation from the end of a wire, crimping its ends, and inserting them into a circular or rectangular connector. It's work that requires a level of precision that, in Gra- ham's case, is made much more difficult because of her right hand, which never fully formed. The surface of the custom sleeve includes a fixed post that can en- gage with an adapter or a wrench. Today, Graham uses the custom sleeve daily.

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