With a focus on continuous improvement, SAY Plastics recently acquired three-dimensional (3D) printing technology at our manufacturing facility in McSherrystown, PA. Since adding 3D printing to our list of capabilities, our engineering teams have successfully made this technology an integral part of our product development and manufacturing processes.
3D Printing Defined
So what exactly is 3D printing? It’s an additive manufacturing process that creates objects one layer at a time, growing parts out of thousands of layers depending on the object’s size. While 3D printing is commonly used for prototyping and tooling, it’s still in the innovation stage for production applications. But the 3D printing process can produce extremely complex parts without tooling and reduce lead times and costs for the right type of component. And 3D printing can be a smart manufacturing alternative when high production volumes aren’t needed.
SAY Plastics’ Investment
SAY Plastics adopted 3D printing in December 2016. When we invested in the technology, our exact uses for the printer weren’t yet realized. But the decision to add the capability came down to our desire to bolster the re-engineering and innovation processes that have fueled our company’s growth in recent years.
Within short order, the SAY engineering team had the printer humming along – producing parts and components that otherwise might have been outsourced or added to our traditional internal toolmaking schedule. Adding 3D technology provides us with a valuable resource that increases our available technical skills, flexibility and capacity.
Examples of 3D Applications
One example of a tooling application using 3D printing is creating plug assists to provide improved material distribution when addressing a challenging draw ratio. Plug assist tooling can help stabilize the repeatability of the thermoforming process. It does this by aiding material distribution and allowing the thinnest possible starting gauge thickness – ensuring maximum detail and temperature optimization and reducing overall costs.
The plug assists that SAY Plastics produces using 3D technology provides greater design freedom and faster product development.
Another example of a 3D printed component is a mounting bracket bonded to a thermoformed door assembly for a new generation of commercial industrial tankless hot water heaters. This door assembly required a lightweight, highly aesthetic solution.
The customer originally planned to purchase fabricated steel door structures from China, but due to urgent timing needs and a desire for lightweight and higher cosmetic features, they went with thermoformed assemblies produced by SAY Plastics.
A critical element of the design and development challenges of this project included meeting the project’s expedited timeline, which included in-house responsibility for the LED touch screen mounting bracket component design and supply. For that bracket component challenge, SAY Plastics turned to their 3D printing resource.
This is an excellent example of where 3D printing provides added value to the thermoforming processor. In the end, SAY Plastics delivered the solution that was sought by the end customer – a lightweight door with highly cosmetic design features, and expedited delivery.
3D Printing and the SAYtooling System
3D technology has proven to be the perfect partner to the SAYtooling System – SAY Plastics’ innovative approach to tooling development. With this corporate-branded tooling system delivering a highly effective solution, SAY Plastics offers a cost-effective entry for new product development, start-up projects, and low/medium volume programs. 3D printing compliments the SAYtooling System in its ability to provide customers with low-cost solutions and minimal lead times to support new product development and small production runs.
To date, 3D printing has been a success story for SAY Plastics. It’s an integral part of our product development and the ongoing manufacturing processes that meet our customers’ needs for prototypes and assembly components.
Our current 3D printer has a build area of 11.6” x 7.7” x 6.5”. Our printing materials are ABS and PLA. We foresee purchasing additional printers in order to offer larger size capabilities and increase production. Stay tuned as we continue to explore this exciting technology.