Though 3D printing is a rapidly changing industry and area of technology, it is by no means new. Coming to market around the 80’s and within the last 10 years becoming more accessible to the commercial market, 3D printing still has a prevalent image of being elusive and futuristic.
This perception is likely due in part to the industries that pioneered 3D printing and continue to push the boundaries of it daily. Companies such as Lockheed or even government agencies such as NASA, use 3D printing regularly and when you associate rocket science with anything, it automatically is given an ora of being overly futuristic and even out of reach to the general market.
However, this idea that 3D printing is elusive is far from reality.
Another industry that is heavily influenced by 3D printing is the automotive industry. Historically, 3D printing may have been used for anything from prototyping the design of a new car to actually printing car parts for a production model automobile.
These examples are probably why 3D printing comes across as overly technical and used only in the most rare of cases. So, are there cases when, in a major industry, 3D printing can prove its worth to solve everyday problems? Yes!
Case Study: Solving a Real Life Problem
Recently, Halo Technologies had an auto dealership contact them with a problem. A key tracker machine they had purchased recently in excess of $15,000 USD was no longer being serviced by the company they purchased it from and ultimately, the parent of this company had shifted focus completely and was unable to provide any service assistance.
Essentially, this expensive piece of hardware was a glorified lockbox that kept track of all the keys for all the vehicles on their lot. Unless the dealership could find a solution to securing the main component, it rendered this $15,000 piece of hardware a “dead-weight.” They had worn out and/or lost the stock fobs and were in need of new ones. The client searched for several weeks, called various sources and even checked eBay for used parts — all without success. That’s when they called us.
The design itself, which you can see in the pictures below, was not complex by any means and was made even simpler by the fact the client did not require a microchip slot that was located on the stock key fobs. The only concern the our team had about the part, was the curved edge, which was curved and posed a potential structural issue when it came to 3D printing.
We replicated the stock design in CAD and tested various print settings. Printing without supports did not work as the curved portion would collapse. Even printing at various temperatures with supports, the print was still “messy.” At one point, we even placed a support in the design file itself and this did help the print results, but the product was still not client worthy.
Ultimately, we switched from using ABS filament (chosen for the assumed strength it would provide) and reverted to standard PLA. This change allowed for the parts to be printed with relative ease and after printing the full order, we were satisfied with the results.
We delivered the parts to the client and the job was complete, or so we thought.
A few days later we received that call every business owner dreads: The client was having issues with the parts we had delivered. The key fobs were cracking when inserted into the machine.
After meeting with the client and realizing they were not concerned with having the exact design of the stock part, but rather the functionality itself, we’re able to redesign the part. Our new design didn’t have the long sliding hole. Instead, we placed two separate holes, one high and one low for varying key lengths and kept the diameter just big enough for the standard key rings the client was using.
After a reprint of the entire batch and customer trying testing them for a few days, the improved results were immediately noticed and the client was happy with the results.
3D Printing Solving Problems & Saving Money
This is an example of how through 3D printing we were not only able to save a client the cost of a new $15,000 machine, but were able to show the that 3d printing really can be a solution to everyday problems. Compared to traditional manufacturing which may have taken weeks to produce a perfect design, it took just a few days to do this with 3D printing.
No, we didn’t print a full car, but we solved a problem that has the potential to save dealerships thousands of dollars. While printing the novelty statues, iPhone stands and our favorite movie character is fun (and we do it all the time) for those who see 3D printing as a solution to people’s problems, the potential is endless.