A manufacturing aid is a device, platform, tool, jig, or fixture used to enhance, accelerate, perfect, or fix a manufacturing or assembly production. Manufacturing aids range from simple guides to complex fixtures with multiple functions.
Traditionally, manufacturing aids are produced by tooling, which may have excessive labor costs and long lead times. 3D printing / additive manufacturing can produce manufacturing aids with far less labor and shorter lead time, which lowers cost and gives users greater flexibility in changing the design of these aids. 3D printing is a simple, fast, and inexpensive way to produce low-volume, custom manufacturing aids.
One example is this 3D printed profile rail wiper. It keeps steel chips off the rail while helping retain oil and lubrication in the rail bearings. It was printed on 3D Platform’s large format 3D printer with PLA material. This simple manufacturing aid effectively extends the 5-axis vertical mill’s lifespan by keeping the steel chips off the rail and bearing system.
The industrial steel rail-cutting machine has a built-in rail surface wiper that pushes big steel chips off the rail surfaces, but it fails to catch smaller pieces that can be caught in between the rail and the ball bearing system. These small pieces can cause the ball bearing system to fail prematurely, and halt the steel rail-cutting machine completely. In addition, the coolant and DTE oil used in the system is corrosive, so it can corrode the built-in wiper quickly. The wiper requires frequent check-ups and replacements, adding labor and replacement part costs.
Engineers decided to use their 3D modeling software and 3D Platform’s large format 3D printer to design and 3D print an add-on wiper that fits tightly on the rail. The wiper will push even the smallest steel chips off the rail surface.
Choosing the right material for this project was crucial, for the part needed to perform and last well in the harsh environment. After soaking samples of PLA, ABS, and NinjaFlex materials in the coolant and DTE oil for 48 hours, the PLA material stood out as the best material choice for this project. Not only for its ability to 3D print quickly and easily, but the PLA material also showed no signs of corrosion after the test.
Designing the profile rail wiper turned out to be more challenging than 3D printing it. The engineer went through almost eight design iterations to fit the profile rail’s unique ridge design on the sides. But within one day the engineer was able to tweak the design, 3D print it, and test run the piece on the machine until it was perfectly fitted.
The entire project was completed within two days. Each rail wiper took 20 minutes to print. The cost of the PLA material was $0.2 per piece, a more than 500% saving in cost compared with traditional tooling.