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East/West Industries leverages additive manufacturing for multiple uses, helping increase production efficiency and reduce cost.
East/West Industries leverages additive manufacturing for multiple uses, helping increase production efficiency and reduce cost.

Small manufacturers rarely get the credit they deserve. But without them, the larger companies you’re more likely to recognize, like General Motors and Boeing, wouldn’t exist. Their success is due in large part to the small and mid-size suppliers that support them with parts and subassemblies on time and on budget.

 

East/West Industries is one of those suppliers. It designs and manufactures products to save aircrew lives for top aerospace manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. But as every manufacturer knows, success is never guaranteed. Staying competitive demands smart business decisions and a laser focus on customer satisfaction. And it’s the strategy that’s helped East/West garner multiple industry accolades, including Boeing’s Supplier of the Year award.

“The introduction of the Fortus 450mc allowed us to break the cycle of buying a new CNC machine and hiring another machinist.”
Mike Vetter, Senior Director of Product Development, East/West
3D printed soft jaw tooling can be produced overnight, ready for use the next day.
3D printed soft jaw tooling can be produced overnight, ready for use the next day.

The additive manufacturing multi-tool.

Many manufacturers buy a 3D printer for one or two applications. But East/West takes a different approach, applying its Fortus 450mc for myriad uses. One example includes full-scale prototypes to help the machinists evaluate and plan the machining process. This avoids potential timeconsuming errors later on. Similarly, engineers use 3D printed prototypes to check their designs. Examining a physical part highlights problem areas that might not be seen on the screen in CAD , avoiding downstream production delays. “Sometimes just holding a part in your hand allows you to realize that you can’t possibly machine the feature you want to put in there,” says Vetter.

 

When a sheet metal forming tool was damaged, engineers printed a replacement tool using carbon fiber FDM Nylon 12CF. Within two days they had a new tool that successfully handled the job. “One of the great things about having a versatile piece of equipment like the Fortus 450mc is there are always new things to try,” Vetter says. “We printed a full-size forming tool with Nylon 12CF and it worked fantastically the first time. It allowed us to save a significant amount of time that could have been a very large risk to the schedule,” Vetter adds.

 

Another application includes 3D printed surrogate parts. Some sub-assemblies East/ West makes must fit with parts located off-site at the customer’s facility. Vetter’s team 3D prints stand-ins for those mating parts using customersupplied CAD data. This ensures East/West’s parts fit perfectly with the customer’s assembly. “First-time quality is critical to our customers. Being able to inspect the parts to ensure they’re going to work 100% when they go out the door is a huge benefit for our customers and East/ West,” says Vetter. It also shows customers how East/West invests in forward-leaning technology like additive manufacturing to meet their needs.