Over the past several days, we have described various areas of application that additive technologies give to a company operating in the automotive sector. 3D printers optimize work, speed up production, save money. Today, we encourage you to read another case study, this time by the Swedish manufacturer of car trunks Thule, who equipped one of his factories with FDM Stratasys 3D printers, which allowed him to save as much as 45,000 dollars per year on prototype production.
A few years ago, a Stratasys Fortus 360mc 3D printer was implemented at a production facility in Seymour, Connecticut, USA. The machine was used for rapid prototyping and in its time met all employee expectations. It worked for 16-20 hours a day, and the Seymour factory also began serving other branches of the company. After some time, it was found that 3D printing can also work in functional prototyping. All Thule products: luggage racks and car holders, prams and car seats, suitcases or backpacks undergo a lot of rigorous endurance tests.
Before buying a 3D printer, functional prototypes were made by injection molding method with carbon fiber or glass doped plastics. However, it was quite expensive and did not allow freedom of design. The engineers were happy to use the Stratasys machine, so they decided to continue working together and buy a newer 3D printer. For the product improvement department, access to materials suitable for rapid prototyping, but also technical materials was important. The 3D printer had to print with high quality so that the produced parts retain the dimensions of the final elements. Otherwise the test results could be distorted. That is why it was decided to implement the Stratasys 450mc. This is one of the most advanced industrial 3D printing machines. Servo drives and a tightly closed working chamber heated to 200°C and vacuum stabilization of the working table are responsible for the print repeatability and dimensional accuracy.
The prototypes for endurance tests were printed from Stratasys FDM Nylon 12 CF material. Nylon-based thermoplastic has been enriched with staple carbon fibers, which take up 35% of the material’s weight. The material is processed with the soluble support material SR-110. Engineers began to use the advantages of Nylon 12 CF in the production of tooling that is used on the production line at the Thule factory. Printed tools are as durable as metal instruments, but they are much lighter and can be personalized.
Around 400-500 prints were made at the Thule factory throughout the life of the Stratasys 3D printers. Thanks to the implementation of the 3D printer, annual savings amount to approx. USD 45 thousand. Time saving is also a big advantage – the product improvement department no longer has to wait for the prototype to be injection molded. The model is designed during the day and then printed at night. This significantly speeds up subsequent iterations, and finally makes it easier to perform functional tests. You can check many models printed on one work table, because their unit production is not expensive.