The Staffordshire company uses physical 3D printed models at every stage of development and across the organization — for example, to refine concepts, ensure fit and function, communicate effectively with partners, and quickly create mold patterns.
“Our ZPrinter saves us time and money at every step,” said Ben White, Integra senior product design engineer. “The biggest savings is getting things right before we invest in tooling. Instead of waiting 40 days for tooling and then seeing if we like our samples, our ZPrinter helps us ensure, before the fact, that our products are going to work, fit with adjacent components, and look great. That can eliminate errors that would otherwise cost us thousands of dollars.”
3D printing creates physical models from 3D computer-aided designs much as document printers produce business letters from word-processing files. Integra invested in a Z Corporation 3D printer <http://www.zcorp.com/en/Products/3D-Printers/spage.aspx> after realizing they could save time, money and rework by making their own prototypes in house versus using a service bureau. Integra now prints as many as 25 models overnight, rather than waiting as long as seven days for prototypes from the service bureau. They reduced prototyping costs by 85 to 90 percent compared to the service bureau’s fees for SLS prototypes.
Integra’s use of ZPrinting includes:
A powerful use of ZPrinting at Integra involves meeting with customers to refine designs and handing them a prototype reflecting the newest input. “Most of our customers haven’t seen this technology and don’t know that it exists,” said White. “It confirms our edge in technology and innovation, and embodies our mission to work smarter, not harder.”
ZPrinting’s quick turnaround helps Integra engineers convey information that doesn’t come across in their computer renderings. With 3D printed models, designers, marketers and salespeople can fully grasp the proportions between the finial (decorative pole end) and the curtain pole. ZPrinted models also more effectively depict complex shapes, such as decorative spheres, to manufacturing partners who can’t fully understand the intent from the digital drawings. Similarly, ZPrinting helps Integra designers ensure that seams and joints aren’t visible in the finished product.
ZPrinting quickly creates molds for the rapid creation of silicon molds and quick patterns for sand casting. These capabilities cut the 10-week development cycle to four weeks.
In addition to saving time, money and errors in development, White’s team is finding ways to cut costs on actual product materials. “ZPrinting has enabled us to reduce material through extensive testing of prototypes,” White said. “As a result, we recently redesigned curtain hooks to reduce each unit’s weight by .3 grams while making it stronger. That saves us 500 kg of plastic per year that we don’t have to buy, ship and throw away decades from now. ZPrinting helps us be green, and being green saves us money.”