One of today’s newest technologies helps re-invent one of the oldest industrial techniques in the manufacturing of heavy machinery and tools.
At JC Steele (a global leader in stiff extrusion machinery and solutions for customers in heavy clay, iron and steel, ferro alloys, and gypsum/wallboard) large-format Additive Manufacturing (AM) has been paired with traditional sand casting. The company uses a BigRep ONE 3D printer to develop, test and create the patterns needed for sand casting molds.
By implementing large-format AM, JC Steele is optimizing design, development and patterning. As a result, the company has achieved a 75% cost reduction and a 50% faster time-to-production cycle. “Introducing AM into our production has greatly improved our operations,” says JC Steele’s Pattern Shop Supervisor, Chris Watts. “We have streamlined our workflow by eliminating those parts of the design process that are the longest, most fault-prone and expensive – the manual designing of a pattern, the interpretation of design drawings and the management of reductive waste.”
In the past, sand casting patterns had to be designed and created perfectly the very first time – as they could take up to a month to be recreated by hand in case of the slightest error, resulting in a longer time to market and higher costs. Introducing 3D printing to the production process has made it possible to develop and test multiple options to find the best-fit solutions. Using the BigRep ONE, JC Steele engineers easily design and test parts that can be quickly installed and removed, printing multiple designs of complex parts that vary in crucial differences (i.e. thickness), to assess the optimal design before expensive patterning and foundry processes begin.
“For many clients in core manufacturing industries, large-format 3D printing has become an integral part of their business,” says BigRep Managing Director, Martin Back. “Our 3D printers are not replacing but complementing other more traditional technologies, improving overall operations and making manufacturing more efficient.”
With the addition of large-format additive, JC Steele has created 60 new patterns in just a year. This increase in production requires their BigRep ONE to be running 24/7 with operators checking in on weekends to verify progress and change filament.
For JC Steele, large-format 3D printing was a must-have to create their large foundry parts and produce at scale. The company’s stiff extrusion technology is dependent on augers – huge columns that work as a drill bit to compact and move material forward through an extrusion chamber. Piecing parts together from smaller printers is not an option. The high-performance materials used with BigRep 3D printers, such as PETG, have the necessary strength resistance for sand casting applications, eliminating the need for wasteful reductive materials without a large environmental footprint.
“As far as comparing plastic to wood, it’s just as durable in sand casting and our other applications,” says Watts. “But the possibilities are endless as to what we can achieve with a plastic-printed part.”
Another value added by 3D printing for JC Steele is the recreation of otherwise unavailable archived parts that are no longer made by their manufacturers or carried by suppliers. JC Steele is now printing these spare parts in-house, eliminating lead times to find new suppliers, waiting for shipping or planning complicated solutions. After seeing how effective these parts could be manufactured, the company is applying the same method to tooling, producing jigs and fixtures on site, particularly for new machines where investing in hard tools upfront is time and cost prohibitive.