Prototype Process Quickened By 3D Sand Printing of Molds
An OEM had put product development on the back burner for the better part of three years. Business was booming, and keeping pace with existing orders was demanding enough. It was not a good time to begin the process of introducing a new product.
But in the last few months, the manufacturer’s business slowed a bit – nothing drastic, but enough that the team could catch its breath. When management convened, they decided to put the new product back on track – and in a hurry.
This led a rep of the OEM to contact State Line Foundries. “They know our business and they know our parts,” the rep explains. “We haven’t done a lot of prototypes. We started talking about the options we had. It turns out, there are new processes that can save a lot of time and money.”
A Renewed Focus
For some manufacturers, it may be that demand has eased enough for them to consider new opportunities. For others, it may be a renewed sense of urgency over an internal project.
Regardless, the fact remains that foundries are increasingly being asked to complete prototypes. “The pace has picked up,” observes Jesse Milks, President of State Line Foundries. “Many existing customers are asking for help with these projects, as are some new potential clients.”
Those who have not taken on such a project in the last few years are likely to be surprised by ongoing changes in the process.
“There are now so many ways to get fast prototypes,” states John Mitchell, sales rep at State Line. “The OEMs don’t have to make such big commitments in terms of time and cost.”
Advanced technology has replaced the traditional method of building a pattern out of wood and then making a mold. These days, 3D printing in sand is increasingly common.
“You don’t have to make a production-style tool,” Mitchell details. “You can just make the mold itself, without having to build any tooling.”
Eliminating that step speeds the process considerably. “What used to take months, now takes days or weeks,” Mitchell summarizes. The shorter time frame results in significant cost savings, too.
The initial use of 3D printing of plastic was considered a breakthrough. The pattern was printed in plastic, and the sand placed around it.
Now, the process goes directly from CAD drawing to sand. “They’ve taken the whole pattern section out and gone straight to printing the mold in the sand,” Mitchell remarks.
“This is a huge time-saver,” Mitchell stresses. “There is time saved during the prototyping, and much faster speed to market.”
Adjustments, both major and minor, are also much easier. Changes are made on the computer and then a modified mold is printed.
Customers like the new approach because they can “test and break and try again without having to spend a tremendous amount on tooling,” Mitchell says.
OEMs can cost-effectively test to the point of failure. “That’s the huge advantage,” Mitchell clarifies. “They can build, test, break, redesign.”
The Customer Experience
The OEM rep is now a believer in 3D sand printing. “You don’t want to spend thousands on prototype tooling in case there are changes – and there usually are,” he acknowledges. A 3D mold can be replaced much more easily.
The OEM is new to 3D printing. Most of their previous efforts involved wood tooling. “We talked to State Line about a prototype, and they recommended the 3D option,” the rep offers.
The mold had some unique features that were no problem for the printer to replicate. “Everything turned out great,” he asserts.
“With printing, State Line just made these molds, and we used them as one-offs. It was really a change.”
He estimates the use of 3D sand printing cut the development time in half. “It was key to being able to meet the timeline that we had promised our upper management. Without 3D printing, I don’t think we would have hit our deadline.”
It’s a whole new world when it comes to prototypes, with shorter turnaround times and considerable cost savings. “We have solutions that make the process much less daunting,” Milks promises. “Customers that are new to the technology can’t believe how easy prototyping has become.”
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