Reducing Changeover Time and Increasing Plant Throughput with Markforged Technology
The manufacturing technology unit at a Canadian based integrated energy Services Company required to create an automated handling machine that can load large glass reinforcement tape pads. The company required advancement in the production process to significantly decrease the changeover time and increase the plant’s throughput. But the weight of tap pads was anywhere between 115lbs to 230lbs, which was too heavy for a person to handle. The ‘pad handling’ machine would sit over tape pad pay-off stations on the pipe reinforcement machine, with four end effectors to pick up reinforcement tape pads and place them on controlled pay-off hubs across four quadrants.
The decision to make the custom parts for the machine would have increased the expense on the part. “These one-off parts usually have a three- to six-week turnaround time,” said Phil M, a Senior Mechanical Designer for the division. Having the machine up and running was going to increase plant throughput by 15%. It was lose-lose situation for the company – either they pay a lot of money to build the machine, or lose out on plant throughput increases.
“Every month the pad handling machine isn’t up and running, we’re missing out on over 15% of increased plant throughput.”
— Phil M, Senior Mechanical Designer
Markforged 3D printing technology was the solution for Phil and his team. The team realized that they can leverage Markforged additive manufacturing solutions to print several of their custom aluminum parts on the 3D printer. Phil put the business case together, showing the potential benefits that Markforged 3D printer can offer, and purchased a Markforged Mark Two — a desktop 3D printer capable of printing in continuous fiber. The team started printing parts for the machine and found they could do so at a reduced cost. The company now prints 53 unique parts that are used on the pad handling machine, including fuse covers, end effector laser sensor mounts, mechanism covers, bump stops, motor mounts, and more. Additionally, the Markforged’s 3D printers have provided the company flexibility to print parts overnight, put back on the machine, and test the next morning. The company can even replace machine parts that break during testing or need tweaking. These replacement parts are integral to keeping machine development on time.
The company has utilized its Mark Two’s ability to embed continuous fibers to ensure extra strength in certain parts. Phil estimates that around fifty percent of the printed parts have been reinforced with Kevlar®, HSHT fiberglass, or carbon fiber. “For shock-loaded parts, we chose Kevlar or HSHT fiberglass, and for parts we wanted to be more rigid, we chose carbon fiber,” says Phil. The design team saved CAD 27,000 by replacing aluminum and sheet metal parts with 3D printed parts on the pad handling machine alone.
“People were blown away by the overall quality; they never thought they’d see printed parts being put on machinery that’s actually going to be used in a production manufacturing environment.”
— Phil M, Senior Mechanical Designer
The Markforged Mark Two has since garnered a lot of attention from engineers across the company. “People are now starting to realize that you can prototype faster and iterate faster,” says Allan C, Electrical Engineer at the company At first, other employees were concerned about the amount of time it would take to operate the printer, but Phil had no apprehension about it. “It takes me less time to set up the print than it would take me to create a purchase order to get the part from a machine shop,” says Phil. Initially, only three engineers and designers were using the printer, but now it’s being utilized across division and by the product engineering team who use if for prototype parts and test fixtures. The printer has become an attraction at the facility, “When people do tours of the plant, they now point out the printer as something cool and cutting edge,” says Phil.