3D Printing: Enabling a New Manufacturing Landscape

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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.



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