In many industries, one of the hurdles to the adoption of additive manufacturing is knowing how and when to implement the technology. Fortunately, this particular challenge is being addressed by a handful of software developers which are offering analytical tools to help companies determine which parts are best suited for AM production. One of these companies is Castor, an Israel-based startup that has developed a software platform that enables companies to optimize AM adoption.
The young company came onto our radar last year, when it was selected as part of the Stanley+Techstars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator hosted by industrial manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker and seed accelerator Techstars. The program propelled Castor and its technology ahead to the point where it has now helped Stanley Engineered Fastening to integrate its first metal 3D printed production part.
At its plant in Danbury, Connecticut, Stanley Engineered Fastening (SEF) relies on production line tooling, jigs and fixtures to offer one of the most diverse portfolios of fastening products to its clients. The tools used by the company often require customized components with complex geometries and are only needed in small quantities. Up until now, this has translated into high production costs and long iteration times (about eight weeks per iteration).
It is thus understandable that the company was interested in investigating additive manufacturing, which could help to reduce turnaround times and costs and increase production flexibility. Still, the transition wasn’t quite as easy as installing a machine.
At SEF, many of the company’s engineers are not trained in 3D printing technologies making it difficult to reap the full benefits of the technology. To address this skills gap, manufacturing engineer Moses Pezarkar—who was responsible for deploying the company’s smart factory solutions—utilized Castor’s Decision Support System software to determine which parts would be the best fit for AM.
Consisting of tools for technical analysis, cost-saving advice and machine and material recommendations, the software helped the SEF team to input a series of complex and traditionally expensive parts to produce and determine which of them would be best suited for AM. Ultimately, a Wire Lifter component was selected as the best candidate for metal 3D printing.
Castor’s software offered a series of recommendations on how to proceed with the part in order to match the mechanical properties of the original part’s material. These included printing the Wire Lifter on an EOS M-290 3D printer using Maraging Steel (1.2709). The software also recommended a 3D printing service for the job, FIT America.
A few sample parts were then delivered for the purpose of undergoing physical tests, including dimensional accuracy and usage tests (in a Heli-Coil product). In the end, the 3D printed part showcased good results.
The economic analysis of the 3D printing transition is even more noteworthy. According to Stanley Black & Decker, it was able to reduce production costs by nearly 50% by switching to AM for the part. More specifically, at an annual volume of 15 parts, the original part cost was $120 per part, while the 3D printed component was only $61 per part.
SEF also experienced a significant lead time reduction, from 8 weeks to just 9 days. The time savings have also translated to significant cost savings.
After seeing the success of integrating its first metal 3D printed part into a production line, the SEF team is now preparing to integrate 11 more 3D printed components into its production line equipment.
“I think that most organizations in 2019 understand that additive manufacturing has the ability to transform their business. However, the toughest part isn’t acknowledging the opportunity, it’s figuring out where and how to implement AM,” said Jon Walker, Business Development Manager of EOS North America. “Software like Castor, that automates the decision making process, minimizes the amount of time waster on ‘how’ and maximize AM’s disruptive potential.”