Ricoh Japan is replacing traditional metal tooling with custom, lightweight 3D printed jigs and fixtures for its Production Technology Center assembly line. The tooling is printed on a Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS), Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer. The assembly line, located in the northeast branch of Ricoh Industries in Miyagi prefecture, Japan, is dedicated to manufacturing large-format printers.
By producing the tools in durable ABS thermoplastic on its Stratasys 3D Printer, Ricoh can customize each tool precisely according to the part geometry while reducing the tool’s weight. This capability helps Ricoh accelerate the manufacturing process in which an operator typically handles more than 200 parts each day.
The need for speed
Ricoh develops and manufactures high quality office equipment such as copiers, fax machines and projectors. The competitive nature of the electronics industry led the company to look for new ways to accelerate product launches while maintaining or lowering production costs.
“Because we are producing an enormous number of parts, it takes a lot of time and effort to identify the right jigs and fixtures for each one. This manual process has become lengthier as the number of components grows, requiring that an operator to examine the shape, orientation and angle of each part before taking out a tool and placing it back in its original fixture. The operators were occasionally annoyed with the many different tools, and we were looking for a way to accelerate tooling to match our manufacturing schedule,” said Taizo Sakaki, Senior Manager of Business Development at Ricoh Group. “Now with Stratasys 3D printing, we can customize the tools according to the part and produce them on demand, which is helping us restructure and modernize our production process.”
Outsourcing versus in-house
Prior to 3D printing, Ricoh outsourced machine cut tools, which could take two weeks or more. Now, Ricoh’s operators determine the shape and geometry of a fixture that corresponds to its associated part through 3D CAD software and 3D print it in one day. This leaves the workers more time to attend to other stations. Moreover, new hires can adapt to the tools and the workstations in two days when previously a new worker spent at least one week to learn all the tools. The jigs and fixtures are also much lighter so that workers can use them for a prolonged period of time without fatigue.
“The Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D printer enables us to realize designs that are difficult for conventional cutting methods to replicate, such as hollow interiors, curves or complex shapes. The material used to 3D print the tools is very strong and anti-static which is important due to the large number of electronic components we are assembling, adding to the advantages of Stratasys 3D printing,” explained Sakaki.
Ricoh’s large-format printer assembly plant has pioneered the adoption of digital manufacturing, and the company continues to explore areas where 3D printing can be applied to expedite workflows, such as molding and low-volume production–releasing more resources and expanding its scope for its diverse customer base.