3D Printing: Enabling a New Manufacturing Landscape
Scott Schwarz, senior sales representative for rapid technology at Fisher Unitech, sat down with I-Connect007 Technical Editor Happy Holden at the recent Michigan SMTA Tech Forum to discuss advanced 3D printing applications.
Happy Holden: Scott, please tell our readers about your company.
Scott Schwarz: I’ve worked with Fisher Unitech for 10 years and I started from the field service/technician side and transitioned into sales. Fisher Unitech deals primarily with Stratasys 3D printing as well as Artec 3D scanning. We are also involved with 3D CAD on the SolidWorks side and Mastercam. We’re a product-driven company and we are heavily involved in customer applications. My territory is primarily focused in the southeast Michigan area. My customers range from automotive suppliers to OEM groups.
Holden: What were some of the highlights of your technical talk?
Schwarz: We talked about some of the advanced applications that have made some of the biggest impacts in the automotive manufacturing arena. Applications such as injection molding to conceptual modeling, and as far as die cast components and structural mock-ups. We’ve done a lot of different applications with a lot of different industries, and we wanted to just bring that to the forefront and inform people of the magic going on behind the scenes. All of these advanced applications were designed by our customers, not by Fisher Unitech or Stratasys, we only aided in making the application successful. We’ve developed this with our strategic partners, and we’ve perfected all these applications over time.
Holden: What interest do people have for the diversity of some of the projects you’ve seen?
Schwarz: I primarily deal with a lot of automotive. The introduction of 3D scanning has also made it possible for us to penetrate into the medical market. Low volume and complexity is our world in the 3D printing market, it’s what we call the additive sweet spot. Obviously no two people are the same, so it lends itself very well to additive manufacturing or 3D printing. A lot of this customization will come into play when discussing prosthetics for individuals or pre-planned surgery/surgical guides. There are other companies that we are not directly involved with, that are getting into what they call bioprinting. This is where we’re taking man made T-cells and introducing DNA into the cells to create tissue samples of individuals. It’s an everchanging market and just the diversity from the medical side to aerospace, to consumer goods and automotive—it’s all different in every single facet.
Holden: Are some of these plastics suitable in the prototype or short-term to replace metal castings or things like that?
Schwarz: Castings would be a little tricky. I would say the jig/fixture applications are where we’ve made a very, very big impact. Areas like assembly fixturing, weldment fixturing, where some of our higher heat, chemically resistant materials have replaced a lot of traditional metal tooling. Where that makes the biggest impact is usually from a time and cost standpoint for our customers. Traditionally, making metal tooling for either pre-production or actual production can be very costly, especially from the pre-production side just for proof of concept. We have a big impact there because our tooling is a fraction of the cost and the turnaround time is extremely quick. That’s where we see the biggest impact on the manufacturing side: in the fixturing market for replacing metal tooling.
Holden: From a financial point of view, does 3D printing make sense in today’s market where time to market is so important?
Schwarz: Yes, for sure. What we’re doing with 3D printing that makes sense from a time standpoint is catching the design flaws early on that prolongs going to production. We can make many different reiterations much quicker, which helps with the cycle product lifeline. It also helps with being able to have parts in hand before we move into production. Not only are we catching design flaws, but we’re testing our form, fit and function, and we’re able to prove the concept out much earlier on. Traditionally, waiting for the tool to show up or creating our in-house tooling and ultimately a product that we still need to prove out has been a downside in pre-production.
Holden: Are some of these materials flexibles?
Schwarz: Yes, we do have materials that are flexible in both sides of the technology. Traditionally, our PolyJet materials were the ones that have been flexible. On the PolyJet side, we use a type of printing style that allows multiple materials within the same build. We can take what they call rubber-like materials and rigid materials and blend them in a physical model, where I can have a rigid component with a rubber overmold around the outside of it. On the FDM side, we are getting into actual elastomeric materials that will be extruded through our FDM process.
Holden: I was watching your demonstration, and the machine was switching to a material that was soluble. Later, I guess it would be moveable or freed up from other parts that were printed?
Schwarz: That’s correct. On both our FDM and PolyJet technology, our secondary support structure not only adds as scaffolding to our part for any areas that go beyond a 45-degree angle, but it also works as a material to separate moveable components in an assembly. Because were growing the part from the ground up and introducing that support structure mid-build, we can wash that component away from the actual model and have a full working assembly without having to assemble it after the fact.
Holden: With all of this, where do you see this technology heading? I think it’s probably just in its infancy right now.
Schwarz: Well, ironically, the technology has been around for 30 years. Stratasys just celebrated their 30th anniversary of its inception by Scott Crump, in 1988. All the applications have been customer-driven, so we’ve seen it blossom on the customer side more so than our side. Where we do see it is with the advancements of materials getting stronger and higher temp. We’re getting into higher-end advanced applications than we have ever thought possible. We’ve broken into the aerospace industry for end use parts. Ultimately, the goal for 3D printing is to one day be able to produce production parts from 3D printing. We’re seeing that on the medical side, we’re seeing that on the aerospace side, and we’re seeing that in the racing industry. We’ll take a little while to get there on the automotive side and the consumer good side, but I think it’s right around the corner.
Holden: What other information or viewpoints would you like to leave for customers?
Schwarz: I would say a lot of people are reluctant to break status quo in a lot of industries, especially when we talk to the supplier groups in automotive. It’s hard for them to take something that they’ve always done out of metal and reconfigure their mindset to take on and try a plastic component, especially something that might have no reason to be a metal part. What we like to do is we like to go in and evaluate, start at the bottom, and then work our way up with our customers. We want to start out with the stuff we know will work, the easy stuff, prove it out, and then we want to push the limits to see how far we can take it. We will come to the facility and we will go through a thorough evaluation of how it’s traditionally done, how we see it could be done, where that savings is, and how far we can push it. That’s the actual trial process.
Holden: Have you ever started with a printed circuit board or flexible circuit and then 3D printed that where it became an integral part of the finished 3D printed part?
Schwarz: We have done a little bit with that. We have a material called ABS-ESD7. That’s an electrostatic dissipative material. It’s essentially an ABS material with nanoparticles of carbon in it, so it’s static dissipative. We did partner with a company primarily to print circuit boards into the 3D printed ABS components; however, it was still only good from a prototyping level just because our ESD7 wasn’t certified to go into production for automotive components at that level yet. I still say that from a material standpoint we’re in our infancy, but as we grow, and these materials grow, we get closer and closer to that production level of our materials. You’ll see those types of applications come back through as materials advance, and we’ll see wiring removed from your automotive components and more electrical lines being physically printed into the 3D printed parts and going into vehicles.
To read the full article, which appeared in the August 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.