Q&A with Allied Mask and Tooling Inc.

Allied Mask and Tooling is a secondary manufacturing company in Toledo, Ohio using their Gigabot in the production of parts for the automotive and medical industries. We talked with Jared Murray, Design Engineer and Project Manager, to understand more about how Gigabot has fit into their workflow and cut their costs.

Q. Can you explain the industry you’re in, the work Allied Mask and Tooling does, and how Gigabot fits into your process?
We are a secondary manufacturing company that is heavily involved in the automotive industry as well as the medical industry. We don’t normally deal directly with car companies such as Toyota or Ford, we deal with their customers. Their customers are typically molding, painting, metalizing, and assembling parts to get ready for the plant that will build the vehicles. We make sure that the equipment we use, like the heaters for plating tanks, are reliable and won’t cause any faults in our products. We are the customer of the customer of a major car company, which is referred to as secondary manufacturing. What we do is create tooling to hold parts to be painted or metalized. Metalizing is an aluminum coating that is on headlights and taillights and allows the light to be reflected. We also create paint or metalizing masks which allow only some of the part to be metalized or painted.

This is what a part looks like after metalizing and assembly.

We are using our Gigabot to print out end-use parts as well as molds which I have designed in Solidworks to fit the parts and mask we want, which will then be used for plating in our nickel tank.

In this picture I have four molds on our printer that we are going to plate with nickel and cut out.

Q. How were you doing this work before you got your Gigabot?
Previous to having our Gigabot we use to have to wait until production-level parts were available. Then we would have to set up our nickel plating molds with a part and wax, and form the wax by hand to get it in the shape we wanted.

Doing it this way caused us many issues, one being that we had to wait to start our process until production parts were available. This meant our customer had to wait to produce until we were done with at least the first set, which could sometimes take up to six weeks.

Q. What brought you to 3D printing? Why did you start to investigate bringing this technology into your business?

Building on the last question, our customers were wanting us to produce production tooling before parts were even available. We then had one of our customers say that we had to produce our tooling with the 3D data only. At this time I was finishing up my CAD/CAM certificate and was wrapping up my second and last semester of Solidworks that our college provided. In this class, I started to learn about 3D printing and how it’s shaping the future. When our customer said that we could only go off the 3D data they provided, it got me thinking about the CNC classes I took and how expensive and time-consuming it would be to produce this via CNC out of plastics.

I kept coming back to the idea: “Why not just 3D print our molds for plating?” So, I talked to the boss about it and we had a couple of tests prints made by a local supplier, and we loved how our production-level parts fit into these prints. We then decided to design an entire job out of the 3D data and have it all 3D printed for us. The downside to this was the still-very expensive cost of having our larger part molds printed, and the time it took to get them shipped to us.

Q. Has 3D printing enabled you guys to take on jobs you couldn’t otherwise perform?

Yes, the Gigabot has enabled us to take on more jobs and be able to hire people with less skill since I am now doing all the design and mold setup on it. I used to have to have multiple top-paid artists working with the wax and parts to make our plating molds. Now I can design the molds, design how we’re going to hold our molds in place, and design in clamps and anything else we need. Our new method using Gigabot allows us to do more ahead of time and make everything a lot more accurate.

Q. Do you have an estimate of your time and/or cost savings using Gigabot versus your alternative options of manufacturing?

Contracting out 3D prints externally was very costly. For our first project when we started this whole idea of 3D printing for our plating molds, we spent nearly $40k on just the prints. We were researching 3D printers, but every printer that was remotely affordable had way too small of a build envelope, or it had a large-enough print volume but cost close to what our annual sales were at the time. Printing large parts in many pieces and paying that much out just couldn’t be done, and potentially forking out $40k every project for our larger parts was just not feasible. We were in a dilemma.

I researched for a few weeks and came across a video of a Gigabot printing large-scale parts at an affordable price. For the first time in a couple of months I got excited that our new thought process on how to use a 3D printer was going to become a reality. And that’s when I contacted re:3D.

So, even purchasing the Gigabot compared to what we paid for prints has saved us a lot of money over the last year or so that we’ve had our bot.

Q. Favorite part about using Gigabot?

I’d say my favorite thing about the Gigabot is not necessarily how we use it, but what it’s done for us. In having the bot, we are now a lot more organized and getting more jobs shipped out on time and even early. Elaborating on that, by having the bot and being able to do what we do with it, it’s allowed me to design entire jobs on Solidworks, which allows me to order things ahead of when the guys will need them. We used to have to design and try to order after we started working on a project and know what the hand layout of our wax molds would look like. This would force all of our orders to be on a rushed delivery, which would cost us more and give us a lot more to stress out about if things didn’t go as planned.

Now I can design, know my molds are going to be accurate, and have my items in the shop weeks before I need them. So not only has our bot allowed us to give a better product to our customers, it has allowed us to be more efficient and resulted in a higher profit.

“If you can build it, they will come.”

Article originally appeared on 3DPrint.com on August 31, 2017

 

One of the things that often surprises an organization that gets its first 3D printer is the unexpected uses that seem to pop out of the woodwork once it arrives.

Someone in one department will decide to get a 3D printer for a specific project, and once word of the new machine spreads through the organization, a line of people suddenly appears. “Do you think you might be able to help me with a project?” “What about this? Can you print that?”

I heard this story at Texas A&M University, where Veterinary Radiation Oncologist Michael Deveau originally got a Gigabot to 3D print components for a canine cancer treatment. Word of his success spread through the hospital, and he soon had colleagues from different departments knocking on his door to ask if he’d be able to help them out.

Deveau has since printed surgical models for neurologists and orthopedists, Ninjaflex models of canine inner ears to be implanted into toy stuffed animals on which students could practice ear exams, and devices to help a researcher with her studies on reducing bladder crystals in goats. He didn’t originally get the Gigabot to do any of those things — he didn’t even know about some of the projects prior to then — but once a solution presented itself, the applications came flowing.

A similar story happened at Syracuse University in New York, where an economics professor was looking for a way to make his class accessible to a blind student. Anyone who’s taken an economics course will know: the subject matter can be very visual, relying on graphs to tell the story of data and trends.

The university had recently opened the doors to a brand-new makerspace, home to a few dozen 3D printers. The economics professor approached John Mangicaro, manager of the makerspace, to see if there might be a better solution for this student than what was already in place.

Mangicaro worked with the professor to convert graphs from the coursework into 3D CAD files which were then printed on the makerspace’s large-scale Gigabot. Based on feedback from the student, they tweaked print settings like layer height until the desired outcome was reached. By the end of it, the professor had a collection of Braille-esque graphs that his student could call on for homework and exams.

Syracuse didn’t originally build a lab to 3D print teaching aids to make their classes more accessible — it was a happy byproduct of making the right tools available on campus. And this is exactly one of the things that makes 3D printers so powerful: their ability to unlock previously unconsidered or impossible solutions to problems. Give people access to a tool with nearly limitless potential, and they might just surprise you.

So if your organization is thinking about getting a 3D printer, prepare yourself. You may find yourself working on product ideas you hadn’t considered, or printing off-the-wall solutions to problems that weren’t even on your radar, or you may unintentionally make yourself the new most popular person in the office.

To repurpose a famous quote: “If you can build it, they will come.”