The iconic crash-test dummy is anything but dumb. It’s a high-tech testing device with innumerable physical and electronic permutations to satisfy the unique needs of each customer, whether auto maker, airline, space agency or military branch.
This persistent demand for sophisticated new products and features explains why Humanetics Innovative Solutions of Huron, Ohio, a leader in the design, development and manufacturing of anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), uses 3D printing technology from Z Corporation.
“ZPrinting lets us make new parts for the client in a day and a half instead of the week or more it takes when we need to machine new steel or aluminum molds,” said Humanetics Project Engineer Kris Sullenberger. “It’s also probably a 10-to-one cost savings in materials and machine work, meaning we save hundreds of dollars each time.”
A 3D printer produces physical models from computer-aided designs much as document printers print business letters from word-processing files.
Sullenberger’s team purchased its ZPrinter four years ago to execute an urgent project for the US Department of Defense during the second Iraq war. The client needed a sophisticated head model to test a new generation of goggles and face shields. The head model consisted of a dozen segments representing facial bones, each having impact data collection sensors.
“ZPrinting was the only way we could do the job,” Sullenberger said. “Time was of the essence, and ZPrinting’s speed, accuracy and resolution was best suited to the government’s needs.”
Sullenberger’s team ZPrinted patterns and mold boxes, quickly created silicon molds, and then heat-poured the urethane parts. “From start to finish, the whole product – design, building, testing and shipping – took six months. It would have taken three months of machine time alone to make aluminum molds. And revisions would have been a nightmare. Instead, we just reprinted and repoured anytime we needed a change.”
Today, Humanetics is printing about 200 parts a year, often multiple parts per build. At peak, Sullenberger’s team runs the ZPrinter around the clock for three weeks on end.
Although most of Humanetics’ ZPrinting is for mold and pattern production, the company also prints samples for marketing and sales, often helping explain concepts better than words or CAD images.
“We’ll send complete scaled-down dummies to clients, including senior executives and other non-technical professionals, or we’ll send detailed models that help explain new designs,” Sullenberger said. “People often don’t know what they’re looking at in a picture. But it drives the information home when you print a part, split it in half and let the person pick up the pieces, examine the internals, and put them together themselves.”