Additive manufacturing improves machine availability

| Manufacturing

3D printed FDM Nylon 12CF thermoplastic chocolate factory machinery parts
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Chocolate packing machinery in Holland is achieving improved availability by the use of 3D printing for producing spare parts.

The Dutch 3D service bureau, Visual First, is using FDM Nylon 12CF carbon-filled thermoplastic from Stratasys to replace metal machine parts for its customer, The Chocolate Factory. The ability to 3D print machinery replacement parts on-demand has significantly reduced machine downtime, ensuring production line continuity for the company.

Based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, The Chocolate Factory runs a network of packaging machines, with the company’s daily throughput relying on the smooth operation of a simple, yet crucial, hook-shaped metal part that lifts wrapped bars onto a conveyor belt. A problem occurs when the part malfunctions – typically with such regularity that it necessitates replacement three times a month. As each replacement part is handmade, delivery can take over a month.

“It is crucial that the packaging machine is always operational, especially during hectic periods such as Christmas,” explains Carl van de Rijzen, Business Owner at Visual First. “With Stratasys additive manufacturing, we can produce customised replacement parts on-demand that can perform just as effectively as the metal machine parts. We can 3D print and deliver production parts to The Chocolate Factory in under a week, which is vital to ensuring manufacturing line continuity.”

A strong replacement for metal

Van de Rijzen uses Stratasys’ high-performance FDM Nylon 12CF composite material, a carbon-filled thermoplastic containing 35% chopped carbon-fibre. Produced on the Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer, the 3D printed replacement machine part is currently being used at the factory. According to van de Rijzen, the team at The Chocolate Factory is impressed with the high stiffness-to-weight ratio of the FDM Nylon 12CF, resulting in parts of extreme rigidity.

“The success of the 3D printed part was instantly clear – the material is impossible to bend,” says van de Rijzen. “The part withstood all tests on the machine and multiple runs were completed without incident. The factory is now enjoying increased production throughput by replacing the metal machine part with our 3D printed version.”

Previously, constant human intervention meant that the function of the metal part suffered and the machine was often damaged. “Now, with the ability to optimise the design of the part with the Fortus 450mc, this has improved due to the part being much lighter than its metal counterpart,” continues van de Rijzen. “The Chocolate Factory is also enjoying significant economic benefits too, with the team reporting a 60% cost reduction on the part.”

Following the success of the 3D printed replacement part, The Chocolate Factory is now turning to Visual First to solve other design challenges – most notably, to develop a prototype casting mould to test acceptance of its products. Traditionally this is made from plastic, which is both time consuming and expensive. “With 3D printed moulds created on the Fortus 450mc, the company will be able to further accelerate its production processes,” says van de Rijzen.

“We’re witnessing a growing demand for 3D printed production parts and replacement parts for industrial machinery, especially for packaging machines,” concludes Nadav Sella of Stratasys. “These machines require a high-level of customisation due to the large variety of products that are packaged. In many cases, the use of additive manufacturing can not only save time and cost during the manufacture of such machinery, it can also make them more efficient by reducing weight and simplifying the design.”

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