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Caterpillar engineers propose a 3D printed solution to reduce cycle time. 

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Aaron Pearson - May 17, 2021
Aaron Pearson - May 17, 2021

Our three-part series of blog posts featuring Caterpillar focuses on how the company uses FDM Technology to make jigs and fixtures that help streamline its manufacturing operations in multiple ways. For example, in our second post, we highlighted how engineers made a 3D printed check fixture to reduce rework in the production process. In this post, we’ll look at another way Caterpillar leveraged FDM Technology to reduce cycle time.

Caterpillar’s introduction of a new engine model resulted in additional assembly operations needed to install the fuel components. This doubled the cycle time for that particular assembly step, causing a drag on the production line and the inability to meet the desired engine production rate.

 

To alleviate the problem, engineers proposed a solution to preassemble the fuel components separately from the engine production line. The pre-built components would then be placed on a custom holding rack so they could be installed later as a subassembly. To validate the concept, engineers 3D printed the assembly rack’s parts to prototype the fit and perform a trial run of the subassembly operation.

 

The assembly rack, quickly prototyped with 3D printed parts, helped validate the effectiveness of preassembling the fuel components separate from the main production line. As a result, fuel component installation time was reduced by approximately 40%.

Caterpillar assembly rack cart.
Caterpillar assembly rack cart.
Caterpillar assembly rack.
Caterpillar assembly rack.
Caterpillar assembly rack figure.
Caterpillar assembly rack figure.

Besides helping reduce the overall cycle time, 3D printing’s fast turnaround also helped promote the acceptance of this particular solution because the assembly rack could be quickly built and tested for validation. This plan may not have been supported if the assembly rack had been built using machined components because of the time required to fabricate them.

 

It’s another example of how 3D printing accelerates the resolution of problems that inevitably occur in any manufacturing process. A similar illustration is Caterpillar’s 3D printed drill collet, used to keep production running when the existing tool broke down. You can read that story in the first post of our Caterpillar series.