Today we visited Plastteknik Nordic in Malmö, Sweden. It proved to be a very interesting day, so we thought that we would share a few the things that made us smile.
The first highlight was a visit to Erteco Rubber & Plastics, where we were presented with one of the latest developments in plastics. This exciting material is called Grivory GV, and is strong and stiff enough to replace zinc castings! This material has a glass content well above the 10-30% we are used to seeing in nylon materials, but is still very suitable for injection molding. With 60% glass mixed with a few other special ingredients this modified nylon material unlocks many new opportunities.
To illustrate the possibilities, Erteco Rubber & Plastics have worked closely with IKEA to make a plastic version of a little part we know very well. Who would of imagined this high strength part from many of our cupboards could be made out of plastic. Ikea’s commitment to cost optimization is well reflected by their commitment to using new materials in revolutionary ways.
Our next highlight was a visit to Materialise‘s stand where they presented some interesting 3D printing possibilities. Whilst many people know 3D printing as a technology for Rapid Prototyping, reflected in the fact that we design many prototypes in such materials here at Attention, it’s relatively new and unknown technology that is used more and more for mass production. Materialise personnel explained to us that by designing components in a clever way, using the complexities and benefits of 3D printing, designers can add intrinsic value to products, giving the final customer increased satisfaction and giving companies enormous cost reductions. An example of such a technology is Laser Sintering (LS) where parts are produced in a functional nylon material
The primary example we were shown is a pneumatic lifting device used in a production line. This part was produced cheaper than its predecessor and at a 40% of the weight. Other advantages that are potentially more hard hitting are the new possibilities of making geometies that would otherwise be impossible using contemporary production methods. In the above LS part, air channels have been integrated in the print creating a smart manifold, reducing weight and overall assembly complexity.
Another inspiring example shown by Materialise, was this nice example of topology optimization utilizing a specialized computer software, allowing material to be placed where needed to fulfill the strength requirements, meaning loads, forces and function are the driving factors in design. A subassembly that was previously made out of several different components has been integrated into one part, completely eliminating different tools for each component and loss of valuable time and money in assembly. This is a text book example of function before form, strongly reflecting the organic forms found in nature.
This FMD (Fluid Deposition Modeling, a process similar to LS but using a liquid instead of a powder) cable guide was also on the ‘inspiration wall’: again illustrating that a hand-full of custom printed parts can lift the level of finish on low batch production products. Note the banana shaped spring retention clips that have been added at 3 places along each cable, a nice little design feature.
This production method trend was reinforced by a pair of sunglasses that was shown to us by Damvig Develop‘s Michael Meihlen: the frames on these sun glasses are produced with an SLA body and carbon-fiber arms. Using SLA material for the body allows the producer to implement feedback from the market quicker and cheaper than changing tooling and molding parts.
And perhaps the best example of this manufacturing trend we witnessed during today’s visit was this superb example of an airborne observation camera module from DST Control. Thomas Tønnersen from Protech explained how this custom low-volume product has been manufactured using another form of 3D printing technology where a thin filament of ABS is laid down and crisscrossed in many layers know as FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling).
Using industrial painting processes these parts can be given the same surfaces finishes that we are used to seeing on many metal and aluminum parts.
So to give a quick summary, the advantages of 3D printing for small scale production:-
- Low volumes or one-offs are now economically feasible.
- Quicker adaption times for bringing product changes to the market (adjusting to customer feedback).
- Reduced cost compared to traditional tooling options.
- Opportunities to save weight through topology optimization.
- New geometry possibilities, geometry is now only limited by your imagination and not the tool the product is made in.
- Reduced part count through integration.
- Surface finish techniques that resemble metal production.
So all in all it was a good visit to a very interesting exhibition!