3D printing often faces misconceptions as a technology confined to hobbyists, not yet ready for prime time. However, at Slant 3D, we strongly disagree. While we continuously mass-produce parts, today we want to shed light on a compelling example from the industry, specifically at Ford, where 3D printing has been saving millions at one of their transmission plants.
The narrative unfolds at Ford's Sharonville Transmission Plant (STP) near Cincinnati, with key players Jeff Fisher and Joan Messer. Jeff, a seasoned Millwright responsible for machinery repairs and plant upkeep, collaborated with Joan, primarily handling the ordering of replacement parts for the machinery. Their journey begins with 67 small parts known as "pucks" on nine assembly lines.
The Challenge: Puck Breakages
These seemingly mundane plastic pucks play a crucial role in gripping a rail and transporting it along the assembly line. However, frequent breakages led to assembly line halts, causing significant downtime and production losses. What's more, each puck cost a staggering $180. The combination of lost production time and high part costs created a substantial barrier.
The 3D Printing Solution
Enter 3D printing. Jeff and Joan initiated 3D printing of these pucks, reducing costs to the price of materials, labor, and expertise. Now, Ford maintains a controlled supply chain for these critical spare parts, ensuring minimal downtime. This success became a proof of concept for the plant.
Expanding the Scope
Not stopping at pucks, the success story expanded. When standard parts, like emergency stop buttons, underwent changes from suppliers, Jeff and Joan didn't hesitate to redesign third-party parts that fit seamlessly, avoiding expensive replacements.
A Game-Changer: Jig Redesign However, the real game-changer emerged in the broaching section, where expensive machined gears faced rejection due to scratches caused by steel jigs. Jeff and Joan designed 3D-printed jigs that not only resolved the issue but brought unforeseen advantages. The softer material prevented gear damage, allowed multi-colored variations for identification, and enabled cost-effective production in varying sizes. This innovation saved Ford thousands annually.
Learning 3D Printing The challenge in adopting 3D printing at a factory often lies in expertise. Jeff and Joan, not engineers but dedicated employees, learned the ropes of 3D printing, evolving into additive manufacturing technicians. Their commitment showcases that you do not have to be an expert to leverage 3D printing.
This real-world example from Ford's transmission plant shows how 3D printing, far from a mere hobbyist tool, can revolutionize manufacturing processes, saving millions in the process.