In 2011 the European Commission ranked Romania’s natural gas reserves as the third largest in the European Union. That same year a large amount of that natural gas was used domestically as Romania imported just 17% of its overall gas consumption. The national gas industry is currently important for the country of just over 21 million people, who depend in large part on the domestic gas companies and suppliers as well as the estimated 1.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas that lies beneath its soil.
Elster Aeroteh plays a key role in the industry as the country’s main producer of equipment for gas measurement and regulation. Millions of people, from the large gas companies to customers keeping warm at home depend on the meters, regulators and turbines they create: Indirectly, so do the people who make the gas regulation assemblies. So when Elster Aeroteh set out to produce a new, simpler pressure regulator model especially for the Romanian industry, it was important that it be developed and manufactured locally — rather than in the company’s German parent location — not only to be competitive in emerging markets, but also to ensure that many of the company’s Romanian manufacturing jobs would be safe.
In the first part of the process, Elster Aeroteh’s engineers needed to verify that the assembly could function as designed and that it could be produced accurately in the Romanian facility. That meant extensive pressure testing, especially on the most vital piece in the assembly, a regulator housing. When Elster Aeroteh tested the housing they originally undertook a prototype created via traditional CNC manufacturing… however they found that the results of their initial testing were unreliable. In fact, they had trouble even getting it to fit properly in their assembly. Such a complex geometry as the part required was simply beyond the CNC methods required to get a true picture of its performance.
That’s when they went to LogiCAD Solutions, a Romanian CAD/CAM service provider. Under the guidance of their technical supervisor LogiCAD was charged with quickly enabling Elster Aeroteh to create accurate cast aluminum alloy prototypes for this particular piece, for which they used 3D Systems’ ProJet 3510 CPX 3D printer. The ProJet 3510 CPX is capable of creating RealWax micro-detail investment casting patterns, producing parts for a wide range of applications, from hardcore foundry apps to delicate jewellery designs.
In three days, including CAD preparation, LogiCAD printed four wax test pieces on the ProJet 3510 CPX. Then they used the wax parts as casting patterns to produce the aluminum alloy test housings. After the casting process, LogiCAD used a CNC machine to get nominal dimensions for the assembling planes and for the threads. From CAD file to final test part the project only took about 12 days.
The speed and economy with which LogiCAD finished the job helped Elster Aeroteh to rapidly move forward through testing and approve the assembly for final production. Now, the company is creating the assemblies, using casting moulds prepared through traditional manufacturing methods based on the test pieces that LogiCAD created… Yet another win for 3D printing!