British LED solution provider Spanlite manufactures customized LED lighting. To optimize the cable management of its LED panels and reduce cable damage, the manufacturer required a two-piece interlocking cable clamp. The company turned to voxeljet UK for prototyping first, and subsequently decided to use voxeljet’s HSS technology for serial production as well.
For the Spanlite parts, voxeljet’s HSS technology proved both cost-effective and functionally competitive against any other manufacturing processes, including alternative 3D printing technologies and injection molding. Spanlite entered into a series production agreement with voxeljet to produce all their cable clamps. This has enabled Spanlite to remove any investment in tooling, to be flexible in both design improvements and supply quantities and timings.
For those who are not familiar with it, the HSS process is a thermal sintering technology in which a powder material – in this case polyamide 12 – is selectively fused. To achieve this, the recoater applies hair-thin layers of powder material to the building platform, which are then selectively jetted by the print head with an infrared-absorbing ink. By irradiating the layers with infrared light, the ink-printed areas fuse together, while the unprinted powder remains loose. These steps are repeated until the component is built up. In practice, several components are usually produced in a single job box to achieve maximum production efficiency.
In the case of Spanlite, the focus was specifically on edge-lit functional walls and individual LED lighting panels for the hospitality, commercial and high-end residential markets. The aim was to improve the lifespan and durability of the lighting panels.nThe two-piece interlocking cable clamp guides the cable through a 90-degree bend within the assembled housing, reducing the tensile load on the cable while providing protection from sharp metal edges of the outer aluminum extrusion.
Usually, even if the final design has been developed using additive manufacturing when the component is required in quantities far in the thousands, manufacturers choose conventional manufacturing methods such as injection molding. However, the HSS process proved competitive in this case.
Spanlite needs around 8000 such cable clamps to cover its annual requirements. Due to their small size and despite the relatively low level of complexity of the components, the clamps can be manufactured more cost-effectively using the HSS process than with alternative 3D printing technologies or conventional manufacturing methods.
Because the VX200 HSS from voxeljet can produce around 500 cable clamps in one job box, Spanlite handled the production via voxeljet’s HSS on-demand service. At its Friedberg service center, voxeljet is also able to provide surface finishing and coloring post processes.
This was a new experience for Spanlite, as the company had previously made little use of 3D printing. “We were impressed by voxeljet’s technical expertise and responsiveness from the very beginning,” admitted Adrian Bowker, Managing Director at Spanlite. “After a short test phase to perfect the design and function, we were quickly able to move on to full production and assembly. And we are sure that the clamps were just the beginning. We are already identifying new components suitable for 3D printing. The technology offers us various advantages both in the design and in the production of the components we need. We are excited to see where the journey will take us.”
The first challenge was to define the correct dimensions to achieve the right clamping force for the cable used. This project phase involved various design iterations of the component until the LED manufacturer had developed a suitable component geometry in close cooperation with voxeljet. Such development and production of an initial prototype can take weeks using conventional methods. However, thanks to the HSS process, Spanlite was able to produce and test different prototypes of the clamps simultaneously to determine the appropriate final design. It also meant that there was no need to test parts “off tool” as the prototyping process is exactly the same as the production process.
A further challenge was that the clamps have to meet high mechanical loads, especially when they are plugged together. “The beauty of 3D printing from voxeljet for us was that not only could an initial requirement, the cable strain relief, be met, but that we could also integrate additional shapes and functions into the component without incurring additional costs,” said Managing Director Bowker.
The benefits of 3D printing in terms of geometric freedom, rapid prototyping and product customization are already well known. However, 3D printing also offers a valid production alternative for components that at first glance appeared visually and geometrically trivial. Even with simple components, 3D printing is pushing the limits of what is constructively possible further and further, and in doing so initiates a change in constructive thinking.