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Case Study

Staying agile and flexible with the right 3D printing solution

outubro 26, 2023

How Valiant TMS slashed lead time and cost for a difficult to source end-use elastomeric automotive component.  

Valiant TMS design, develop and deliver specialized manufacturing automation products that help Fortune 500 companies build millions of products. For the past 64 years, they’ve developed creative solutions to complex manufacturing challenges, earning them multiple supplier of the year awards from the biggest names in automotive and aerospace.

 

This swap resulted in shorter lead times, lower costs, and the ability to control more of the manufacturing operation in-house. For polymer 3D printing, Valiant TMS uses Stratasys solutions for their product quality, reliability, and the trust built between the two companies over the years.

In crowded markets, ingenuity and operational efficiency are core to their competitive advantage. With 1,500 team members spread over 20 locations and 11 countries, it’s in their culture to assess new technologies and methods to improve communication, enhance manufacturing operations, and stay agile.

Adrian Pop

Many compatible materials 

In 2022, Valiant TMS Additive Manufacturing Leader Adrian Pop acquired a Stratasys Origin® One photopolymer 3D printer powered by P3™ DLP technology. What immediately attracted his team was the class A surface finish of the parts, combined with functional mechanical properties and high throughput. 

With its ease of use, accuracy, and high yield, the group quickly found new applications in hand-held tooling with rigid, impact-resistant components that needed good ergonomics and surface finish for operators to handle comfortably repeatedly throughout a work shift.

An additional benefit of Origin One is the range of compatible materials, from tough and heat-resistant materials to resilient elastomers, produced by the biggest chemistry names in the material industry. Adrian Pop's team was eager to test and evaluate many of these materials to unlock new end-use applications, especially elastomeric materials, which had previously proved tricky for him to produce in other technologies.

One of the latest additions to the portfolio P3 Stretch 80, a material developed by BASF Forward AM for Origin One. Forward AM, the BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH brand based in Heidelberg, Germany, provides 3D printing solutions along the entire additive manufacturing value chain. They design durable materials and holistic solutions for the industrial-scale manufacturing of end products in the automotive and aerospace industries, in consumer goods, and in the industrial, medical and dental sector. BASF Forward AM’s business relies on creating reliable materials that behave exactly as tested – which made partnering with Origin an easy choice.

 

A molding challenge

Rubber-like TPU components are common within the Valiant TMS product line; they can protect class A surfaces, seal mating parts, or cover wiring. Typically, these parts are produced in a poured polyurethane mold; the molds can be expensive and take several weeks. Poured molds have many drawbacks, including design and accuracy limitations, and they require a lengthy cure time inside the mold. Valiant TMS outsources these parts to a molder in Canada due to facility requirements and the considerable resources needed to manufacture them in-house. These components represent a difficult-to-control pain point for Mr. Pop, “When you are dealing with this type of situation, you have to maintain an edge and perform.”

“Even before we got the Origin One, over one year ago, I was thinking of 3D printing for this application,” says Pop. However, the technologies available then could not produce elastomeric parts with an adequate surface finish, and the print time needed to be shorter.

Valiant Soft Block Stretch

A new tool and use case 

While developing a new door hinge installer tool for a large automotive OEM, Adrian identified soft components that were good candidates to test elastomeric parts on Stratasys Origin One 3D printer i.e., P3™ Stretch 80 powered by BASF Forward AM. Adrian contacted Stratasys and BASF Forward AM, a material supplier developing materials for the Origin One, for their help selecting a potential material for the tool’s soft components. 

An operator would use the new tool to install a hinge on a trunk and door lid; each car model would require five tools per car for two new car models.

Pop explains, “The operator engages the tool on the body, and the soft blocks push against the car body when clamping the tool.” The soft rubber-like components come into contact with the car body and need to securely hold the tool in place in the correct position using several locator pins; this meant that the soft component required to A ) be soft enough to not leave any marks or damage to the final car body B) be accurate so that the locator pins would match correctly and C) include a design features to hold the tool in place.

An operator would use the final tool to install the door lid hinge every 1-2 minutes during multiple daily shifts. This continual motion meant that the final parts would also need to be durable enough to withstand the targeted 3-year lifetime of the tool. 

Valiant Soft Block Stretch 80

A stretched solution 

By working closely with the Forward AM by BASF and Stratasys application team, Pop quickly found a suitable material and print parameters for the Origin One to optimize the parts' printing throughput and surface finish with a 50-micron layer height setting.
The black photopolymer material developed by Forward AM, P3 Stretch 80, had very low viscosity, good tear strength, high rebound properties, and a Shore value of 80A, making it ideal for the requirements.

"The Shore A hardness of the material hits the sweet spot; it has enough stiffness to maintain its shape but soft enough to leave any marks on the car," says Pop.

Within a few weeks of receiving the material, Adrian validated the printed parts for the new device and delivered the initial products to the automotive OEM for testing and final use. In response to the customer's request to increase the rigidity, the Valiant team printed the base of the block in Stratasys Dura56, using P3 Stretch 80 for the area where the block touches the product.

Soft blocs series

An A+ Result 

Compared to the traditional molded polyurethane solution, Pop achieved a 150% cost reduction and slashed the lead time from 4-6 weeks to 3 days for 24 components. The accuracy of the new components was much higher than the molded-in equivalents, encouraging Pop's team to look toward other applications for this solution.

For Valiant TMS, the value of producing these final parts in-house has multiple benefits: lead time is very reliable, and eliminating three weeks off the production schedule reduces pressure on the purchasing and sourcing departments. Now, the tools can be quickly produced on demand, as needed. “The pandemic has shown that lead time can be more beneficial than actual value; the penalty of not delivering on time is higher than the cost of the actual part,” says Pop.

 

Looking forward 

In just a short time, the P3 Stretch 80 powered by BASF Forward AM material has become Pop's favorite material, "For me, this material just makes sense; I don't know why we didn't look into this material even earlier and why it hasn't yet been adopted on a larger scale in the industry, the surface finish is outstanding, and overall, it's a good replacement for TPU."

Internally, at Valiant TMS, these use cases and stories have become a source of inspiration every day. More and more engineers are coming to Adrian's team with ideas on how to incorporate this solution into their work with exciting new applications already in development that would see P3 Stretch 80 powered by BASF Forward AM in critical in-vehicle components that encounter engine oil like transmission boxes. "The engineers understand additive more and more. They've started to design for additive and consult my team first before releasing designs." Says Pop.

Some of the success is measured in the transition of orders to Adrian's additive team, from one-off parts to repeat orders for 3D printed components. Today, Adrian's team fulfills around 40 different repeat production orders, and that number looks to soar. Pop explains, "When we gain the trust of our engineers and designers, they become our best salespeople, and more work comes to us."

Although the additive manufacturing department is still the newest area in the company, it has quickly become an area that delivers operational efficiency and a competitive advantage to Valiant TMS, whether that be by reducing lead times for customers, offering them more innovative solutions, or replacing challenging to produce or source components with 3D printed versions that enable them to stay agile, flexible and reliable.

Contact us to discuss how to produce elastomeric parts and components faster and more cost-effectively.

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