Additive Manufacturing & The Chocolate Factory
The Chocolate Factory
To use additive manufacturing for more than just prototyping
Additive Manufacturing (AM)
The adoption of 3D printing in the manufacturing sector is growing, but as with any production technology, the key to proliferation lies in finding the right niche.
Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services offer a promising entry point for job shops and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to use additive manufacturing for more than just prototyping. The Chocolate Factory, based in Rotterdam, recently learned this firsthand.
A metal component in the company’s packing machines suffers significant wear and tear, requiring it to be replaced several times a year. Replacing the component and repairing any damage caused by malfunctions from error or fatigue was expensive and time consuming. To make matters worse, the parts were in short supply. All this led The Chocolate Factory to investigate whether additive manufacturing was a viable alternative to having the part handmade or repaired by a local metalworking company.
The company turned to Visual First, a 3D services company that provides 3D printing, modeling, animation and augmented and virtual reality services. Visual First created a digital 3D model of the existing machine part from which it could print a series of test parts. Working with additive manufacturing giant Stratasys, the company settled on Nylon 12CF for the material, a thermoplastic impregnated with carbon fibers.
By replacing the original machined metal component with a 3D-printed plastic one, The Chocolate Factory realized a 60 percent cost savings on the component alone, according to Visual First founder, Carl van de Rijzen. “Unlike metal spare parts, a 3D print causes no damage to the machine if it breaks,” he explained. “The machine downtime is also shorter because the component is now supplied within a week, whereas previously it took a month. That lead time can, of course, be reduced even further—down to just a few hours, if a 3D printer is available on-site.”
The Chocolate Factory does not currently have a 3D printer on site, as this is the only 3D-printed part the company is using. Even Visual First doesn’t have a Stratasys system capable of printing Nylon 12CF. “It’s way too big of an investment for a small company like us,” van de Rijzen said. “So, we outsource the 3D printing to a company that has a Stratasys system that can print with 12CF.”
It’s remarkable that even though this replacement part is being outsourced, the company nevertheless saw a 75 percent reduction in lead time. Not surprisingly, 3D printing also had an impact on the part’s design, albeit a small one: van de Rijzen noted that Visual First modified the design to make some features thicker in order to increase overall part strength.
Is The Chocolate Factory’s solution to wear and tear on its packing machines part of a broader trend toward bringing parts replacement in-house? Visual First is currently exploring the prospects for additively manufactured spare parts, as van de Rijzen explained:
“DSV, a global transport and logistics company, is exploring the possibilities of 3D printing with their customers, and Visual First is helping them with modeling, printing and advising. That’s how we got into contact with Stratasys Israel, who helped us produce the spare part. DSV is seriously looking at the effects of 3D printing in the logistics world and the ways they can assist their customers with this new technology; 3D printing spare parts is one of them.”
Asked about the biggest challenge of introducing 3D-printed spare parts, van de Rijzen highlighted the inevitable wariness that comes with adopting a new technology:
“Some of The Chocolate Factory’s suppliers were convinced that replacing a metal part with a 3D-printed one would never work. They literally phoned me to say, ‘Please make it work!’ But, from our experience, if you show people what 3D printing can do and how much it costs, rather than just talking about how great it is, they are much more easily convinced, and then the fun can start.”
His advice for manufacturers who are considering using 3D-printed parts for their MRO operations was equally enthusiastic:
“The first thing you should do is call Visual First. Seriously, though, just do it: take an easy part, go experiment with the different possibilities of 3D printing, and connect to the right people. Don’t start by buying an expensive 3D printer. First, explore what’s possible and figure out if you really need one.”