3D printing has become a technology which can influence and improve many different areas of life including medical care, fashion, art, architecture, and industry. Ivan Gerada, procurement and IT Manager at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions (TSS), a company that provides sealing, damping, and protection for critical applications in demanding environments, presented at innovations conference ZEST 2017 in Malta, how 3D printing can help a large industrial manufacturing company to work more effectively.
For context – Trelleborg Sealing Solutions Malta is the leading site at adopting 3D printing in the Trelleborg Group. Trelleborg Group is a world leader in engineered polymer solutions with 23,000 employees in over 40 countries. With about 120 manufacturing facilities they make an annual revenue of € 3.23 billion covering market sectors like automotive, industrial, healthcare and medical, marine, oil and gas, and more.
The first clear benefit of 3D Printing is the possibility to produce custom parts for machines in-house, while keeping the costs and invested time in the development of these parts very low, compared to traditional established production techniques. Keeping the product quality high requires machinery to work quickly and without any faults. At Trelleborg, 3D printing makes it possible to replace broken machinery parts quickly as well as allowing for freedom of customization when needed. Compared to a €65 machine component, machined out of steel allowing for one design iteration and taking two weeks to be produced, the same component printed in 3D takes just 3 hours to be produced at a cost of only €1.79 and allowing for multiple design iterations.
“We have been using 3D printing a Trelleborg for just over three years,” says Gerada. “We have started by buying the first printer and experimenting what we can and cannot achieve with this technology, gradually moving towards more complex materials and complex designs. The ease of printing customized and numerous iteration of parts as opposed to machining parts in Metal was definitely one of the main advantages for us from the beginning.”
Another advantage for the use of 3D printing at Trelleborg is for what they call “show and tell” samples. Mainly two examples were brought up of how “show and tell” has transformed Trelleborgs’ customer experience. 3D Printing is used as a storytelling tool where really large sized products can be scaled down and brought into a meeting room or tiny products can be enlarged and the 3d printed mockups help customers visualize the functionality of such parts. It is quite clear that the benefit for the customer is mostly psychological and very important.
One example is the Trelleborg Marine System using 3D printed models of their port fenders systems to showcase the functionality of to their clients. This makes it a lot easier to discuss the realization of the clients’ projects.
A third major advantage is the possibility to rapidly and inexpensively create prototypes. The process involves using 3D printing to create and test designs in an iterative way before the actual functional part is manufactured. It is applied predominantly in the area of machine development.
“Today we use a wide range of desktop filament extrusion-based 3D printers from Markforged, Makerbot, Mass Portal to Ultimaker and a desktop SLA printer from Formlabs. We use basic filament materials from polymaker, explains Gerada. “We did have to overcome a few challenges in the beginning. For example on day 1 we have struggled with parts unsticking from the bed, resulting in numerous print failures, which created frustration and reluctance in using this technology. The Magigoo product sorted out this problem, which enabled the engineers to eliminate a major failure element from the equation.”