At Westminster tool, we understand that meeting our mission of exceeding customer expectations requires us to be curious and to stay on the cutting edge of technological developments in the industry. 3D printing, known as additive manufacturing, has revolutionized the manufacturing world by removing the barriers seen with traditional manufacturing methods. Lead times are reduced, achievable
geometries are now the norm, and the major limiting factor is the designer’s imagination. It is only a matter of time until 3D printing is prevalent across the mold making industry, and we have decided to get ahead of the game.
Educating the Workforce
Our employees are our most important resource, and we know that by introducing 3D printing technology to our team, we will be able to leverage their knowledge and experience to integrate 3D printing technology across all facets of the business.
Recently, we invested in an Ultimaker desktop 3D printer so that the team could get hands on experience with the technology. All employees are encouraged to identify challenges in their everyday work that can be solved with 3D printing. One challenge that was solved was part holding in the production area. We were able to print jigs and fixtures to hold the parts during inspection and remove wasted motion and setups. Another solution was printing a replica of a finished molded part so that the designer and other kinesthetic learners could physically hold and review the part to identify potential issues during the design phase. Though at this time we are only printing plastic, much of the experience and knowledge we gain will directly transfer to printing metal in the future.
Introducing Engineers to the Advantages of 3D Printing
Hands on experience with 3D printing technology is especially important for our engineering team. 3D printing is still new, and many engineers are still learning to design with 3D printing in mind. This means adapting in order to best utilize the additional design capabilities 3D printing offers that were previously unheard of in traditional manufacturing. Solid parts can be designed with complex inside structures like conformal cooling, weight can be reduced with infill patterns, and functioning parts like hinges can be printed in place. With the addition of our 3D printer, our engineers now can quickly test potential designs and experiment with solutions that we will be able to provide in the future.
Engineers use plastic 3D printers to prototype their parts, test fit them to assemblies, and as a hands-on method of visualizing their parts before production. Rapid prototyping can decrease the time to market by shortening the process of incremental improvements of parts before full production. An example of this is the racing industry. Racecar teams utilize rapid prototyping to fit and test parts quickly without the wait of traditional manufacturing times, enabling them to bring a product to its final stage before a traditional manufacturing method is used to mass produce. This allows racing teams to stay ahead of the game and continuously improve while being cost effective.
At Westminster Tool, we use rapid prototyping to print a replica of the final molded part and use that part to develop inspection methods and fixtures before the real part is ever molded. This allows us to physically test and iterate our inspection methods quickly and with little cost so that upon molding there is a seamless transition into the verification process. This reduces our manufacturing lead time and helps us exceed our customer expectations.