How One Manufacturer Is Reducing Production Time and Cutting Costs with 3D Printing

(Image courtesy of Jabil.)
3D printing has existed in one form or another for more than 30 years, but it’s only recently that we’ve started to see the technology come into its own in manufacturing. Whether we’re talking about large-scale 3D printers that can produce meter-long parts or finding news ways to keep legacy equipment running, additive manufacturing (AM) is looking less niche and more necessary all the time.

Of course, one might reasonably wonder whether there are quantifiable benefits to having 3D printing capabilities. To answer that question, one need only look to Jabil’s Auburn Hills facility, which recently explored the benefits of using 3D printing to produce jigs, fixtures and tooling in-house.

To that end, Jabil sent its team of additive specialists to the Auburn Hills facility to provide training on 3D printing hardware, software and Design for Additive Manufacturing principles.

(Image courtesy of Jabil.)
“We realized benefits almost immediately,” said John Wahl VI, tooling and manufacturing engineer at the Auburn Hills facility. “Within three hours of setting up the first Ultimaker 3D printer, we had a job to print spare parts. The alternative was to stop manufacturing until the part could be produced, but we made them that day using 3D printing.”

This kind of manufacturing flexibility is an oft-cited benefit of 3D printing, but the main reason for Jabil investigating AM at its Auburn Hills facility was time.

“It could take up to three weeks for a machine shop to make a simple tool,” Wahl noted. “For something more complicated with moving parts, it could take up to two months.”

(Image courtesy of Jabil.)
By bringing tooling production in-house with AM, Jabil’s Auburn Hill’s facility not only reduced its lead time from months to weeks—or even days—but it also gained the ability to produce tooling based on customers’ CAD models prior to receiving the actual parts, giving the facility a head start on production.

“There were several times when something broke or malfunctioned on the production line, but we could quickly replicate the broken part or implement another tool or fixture using 3D printing,” Wahl said. “Before people even knew the line was down, we got them back up and running again.”

On the whole, the Auburn Hills facility reports upwards of 30 percent reductions in the cost of tooling and an 80 percent decrease in production time for tools and fixtures. The additive team is exploring options for expanding the facility’s library of materials and adding different types of 3D printers.

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