According to Schneider Electric, 3D printing is delivering time and cost reductions of up to 90% throughout its manufacturing process, including injection molds, manufacturing tool prototypes and product prototypes.
Schneider Electric is working with Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) to include 3D printing into its manufacturing processes to meet short and longer-term efficiency goals.
Specializing in electricity distribution, automation management and the production of installation components for energy management, Schneider Electric uses a combination of Stratasys PolyJet and FDM based 3D Printing systems. These systems aid in multiple applications, including injection molding and assembly-line tooling. The designs and production are managed with the company’s internal model shop, Openlab.
“This year, Schneider will launch around 400 new solutions, which is more than one a day,” says Sylvain Gire, Vice-President GSC Transformation-Industrialization at Schneider Electric. “Therefore, it is critical that we adopt technologies that help us reduce time-to-market.”
The combination of dramatic financial savings and a greatly enhanced workflow achievable from incorporating Stratasys 3D printing into the process has contributed to the plant’s overall manufacturing efficiencies and reduced the time-to-market in key areas.
3D printed injection molds for prototyping designs in final materials instead of aluminum
According to Gire, the company has slashed the cost of producing injection mold inserts used for prototyping designs to just 100 euros with Stratasys 3D printing, compared to 1000 euros when manufacturing the same item in aluminum.
Notes Gire, “Manufacturing the prototype molds in aluminum necessitates – in some cases – a lead time of as much as two months, but with Stratasys’ 3D printing solutions, the whole process is completed within a week. That’s a roughly 90% savings, which would be unfathomable with any other technology.”
Efficient design and engineering of assembly-line tooling
Schneider Electric’s mechanical design and engineering department is tasked with the production of assembly, control and adjustment tools for its diverse product range. The department uses Stratasys 3D printing to produce prototype jigs and fixtures to validate the ergonomics and functionality of the final assembly tools.
“We are increasingly using 3D printing to design and engineer assembly-line tools for validation – thereby saving time in the production of the final tools,” says department manager, Yann Sittarame.
Using Stratasys’ Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, Yann and his team can produce new manufacturing tool prototypes in one week. In the past, it would have taken at least three weeks to produce the same tools using conventional CNC machining, which amounts to a substantial time-saving of approximately 70%.
“This technology has changed the way we work and changes the way we think about doing things in the future,” he adds. “Looking ahead, we plan to 3D print the final tools, which is perfectly achievable given the accuracy and durability of our 3D printing process.”
Factory of the Future
“We started using Stratasys 3D printing a few years ago for prototyping our new solutions,” Gire says. “We will continue to leverage Stratasys 3D printing solutions for the ongoing development of our tooling process, predominantly for the production of small quantities of new products. We’ll also shortly be looking to use Stratasys’ 3D printing solutions for final production, such as for spare parts or for low-volume requirements.”