Eckhart Inc. is a leading integrator of advanced automation and Industry 4.0 technologies. As a tool designer and a technology integrator, companies come to Eckhart to find solutions that improve their profitability, safety, and reliability of different manufacturing processes. Dan Burseth, VP at Eckhart, discusses how Eckhart’s expertise can help users of additive manufacturing make the most out of that technology.
Welcome to Technology Tuesdays. This is Leslie Langnau with Make Parts Fast. Today I’m here with Dan Burseth, vice president at Eckhart Inc., a leading integrator of advanced automation and Industry 4.0 technologies. Dan works with Fortune 500 manufacturers like Ford Motor Company, John Deere, Boeing and Stryker Medical to transform manufacturing processes to be more efficient, safe and profitable through the use of various system. Dan resides in Chicago and is a graduate of the engineering schools at both Northwestern University and MIT.
Langnau: So thank you for joining me, Dan.
Burseth: Great, thanks for having me. Good morning.
Langnau: Good morning. So first, I want you to tell me a little bit about how Eckhart uses additive manufacturing in its work with customers.
Burseth: Absolutely. So first it would be helpful to, I think, better understand our business. We are a tool designer and a technology integrator, meaning that companies come to us with desires to improve profitability, safety, reliability of their different manufacturing processes. And it’s up to us, as the engineering company, to select, design and then ultimately implement the right technology to achieve a customer’s goal.
So, a good example might be at an automotive company where traditionally you had an enormous amount of tooling that would hang from the ceiling, be mounted on padded stools, that was almost entirely metal. And this tooling would drive a tremendous amount of weight. It would drive a tremendous amount of cost, lead time, into what we ultimately delivered to the customer.
And we’re finding that additive manufacturing presents an enormous opportunity for both us and our customer base to lightweight tools, make them safer in the production environment, make them less expensive to design and deliver, and also more serviceable and easier to maintain.
So, it’s an enormous opportunity that perhaps some of our competitors might view as a threat to the traditional business of tool design and integration. But we believe that it’s an enormous opportunity for really every plant environment that traditionally has just been filled with metal, steel, and traditional tools.
Langnau: So, can you tell me a little bit about what are the capabilities that maybe designers are not taking enough advantage of in their designs when a facility has additive manufacturing available?
Burseth: Yeah, absolutely. So traditionally you’ll find that designers have a mindset that is informed by traditional machining methods, such as using brackets, using welding, using different taps, and traditional fabrication in order to put different metal structures together that you’ll find in the plant environment.
And 3D printing allows you to reevaluate all of that, right? There are entirely different ways to make new geometries for parts, make new fastening and connection methods, and often results in much simpler tools.
So, it’s actually … We find that there’s some challenge for people who have been in a design function for a long time and very used to the constraints and balance of traditional materials. And once they transition or have available to them additive manufacturing, a lot of those constraints and a lot of those bounds are relaxed. And that can often be a challenge for people trying to navigate “Okay, how do I incorporate additive manufacturing in a new and novel way into what I’m designing?”
Langnau: With your experience here, do you have some thoughts on what might be available to help correct this lack of familiarity or knowledge with additive manufacturing?
Burseth: Absolutely. So right now, we’re partners with Stratasys, the largest 3D printer manufacturer in the world. They make incredible product. They have incredible materials. And what we do is we work really closely with companies to come in, do workshops, and partner real close with the internal engineering teams that our customer base to basically canvas the manufacturing floor environment, look for opportunities that lend well to additive manufacturing tool design. We whiteboard them, as a group, and ultimately then print the tools on Stratasys printers.
It’s a really nice way to collaboratively, with our design engineers who work in additive materials day in and day out, transfer that knowledge, help build that comfort and familiarity with the new design space that additive opens up.
Langnau: Are you printing the tools? Or is this something that you’re helping the customers design and-
Burseth: We are.
Langnau: Print their own tools? Okay.
Burseth: We are. The majority of the value add is upfront in the design process, so reviewing applications. And a great example might be hidden torques on an assembly line. A hidden torque is a bolt that it’s hard to reach, not easily visible to the operator. And so, you find that you have many people, maybe they have to get low and on the ground, they have to insert a drill at a really awkward position for their wrists and in their neck. And a very common tool that lends well to additive manufacturing is a simple guide on which the drill rest, allows you to locate really easily and precisely to a hidden torque, and basically complete the operation.
We will, as a first pass, walk around in assembly floor, try to identify where operators are training or twisting or doing some unnatural movement. And we’ll say, “Okay, what does the design or what does the shape look like to facilitate and alleviate the operator from having to do that motion?”
We would walk with the in-house plant team, the Eckhart engineers would. We would come back, we would talk about what we saw, and we would start to design and whiteboard a solution to alleviate that. So, it’s a fun process. It’s a collaborative process. Over the course of a day we could probably identify a dozen to two dozen different opportunities to really make life better for the operators on the ground. So that’s a really classic use case. It’s very well received by your frontline operators. They very much appreciate a simple tool, a low-tech tool, a reliable tool that allows them to do their job faster, smarter, safer.
Langnau: Exactly. I imagine because it translates to faster production down the line and less stress and strain or more safety for the operators.
Burseth: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. The primary benefit is all of the operator benefits that I described. But secondary benefits are definitely improved process time, improved quality. So that’s a big part of it as well.
And the beauty of 3D printing is that, should a new model be introduced on the assembly lines, say, that there’s something with some new features or some modifications need to happen, you can quickly modify the tools, reprint them, and there’s not the traditional expensive and complex process of reworking metal.
Langnau: Okay. Now, in your work with customers, how are you finding the acceptance of additive manufacturing? Is there still some resistance? Or is it just an unfamiliarity? Or are people really starting to move into this area?
Burseth: Very little resistance. Right now, it’s about building awareness of the technology. It’s about building an understanding of where it’s best applied and where it’s not applied. You know, there are certainly cases where you’ll want metal and other materials to remain in place.
But most people, once they understand, hey, here’s a chance to quickly, cheaply and easily make an alternative, or fill a hole that is previously unfilled in terms of an operator ergonomic need, I mean, buy-in is usually pretty quick and well received.
Langnau: If there are some listeners in our audience interested in taking a closer look at Eckhart, what are the next steps that they would need to take?
Burseth: So, we have two different options in this space. The first is the onsite workshop, which I mentioned previously. This is our team comes onsite, usually one or two days. We work with the internal engineering teams and we do that wine-walk idea generation process. It’s a great option. It results in quick wins. So that’s number one. We call that the 3D printing onsite workshop.
And then number two, we have an offering called the mobile innovation lab. And this is a room that we can set up onsite at a customer. And it consists of a printer, consists of a workstation. It consists of a whiteboard and an engineering area. And it represents a physical space where a company can accelerate their own additive manufacturing program. Right, so a big part of it is how do we empower? How do we train and build awareness that will be sustained and permanent within a customer site? And the mobile innovation lab is a physical space that we design. We can brand with the company logo. And ultimately represents an area that the employees can own and produce their own tools and content then going forward.
Langnau: So, this mobile lab, that would stay on site or does it move around?
Burseth: It would live permanently at the customer site. But it’s meant to be flexible and modular. We’re not asking people to build out a new room. We’re not asking people to do a lot of construction. It’s a flexible framing system that if there’s some open floor space or a corner of the plant or the factory floor where there’s a 30’x30′ footprint, we can stand up the mobile innovation lab, make it a nice space for people to explore additive manufacturing.
Langnau: That’s very interesting. Well, thank you very much for your time, Dan. I appreciate it.
Burseth: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Langnau: And that’s today’s edition of Technology Tuesdays.