3D printing has definitely found a home in the automotive industry, as the technology has been used to fabricate spare parts, custom tools, personalized exteriors, lightweight prototypes, and race car components. The complexity possible through 3D printing is especially helpful for making specific car parts, and incorporating the technology is a good way to provide excellent customer service for those who need parts not easily found in traditional supply chains, like components for older trucks. In addition, one of the other great benefits of 3D printed parts is that they are typically more lightweight, and components can also be made in one piece, rather than several.
New York-based Hansford Parts and Products, a manufacturer and precision machine shop located not far from Rochester, was recently looking for a replacement for a broken gear shaft on a 1960s machine, made in Germany, that has not had available parts for a long time. So employees kicked things into high gear (get it?) and partnered up with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which secured a grant in 2016 to open an AMPrint Center, to come up with an answer.
Researchers from RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) worked out a unique 3D printing solution with Hansford, and used a process that employed additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques at the same time in a traditional CNC machining center.
Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS)
Specifically, RIT used the hybrid laser engineered net shaping (LENS) 3D printing process by Optomec to deposit material onto the surface of the steel gear shaft, which had sustained a total of five broken teeth.
“Using the 3D printing capabilities available here at RIT, we were able to fix those gear teeth and have Hansford’s machine back in use in a fraction of the time. We can do in hours what traditionally can take days or even weeks,” said Mark Walluk, who’s been an engineer at RIT for a decade.
Combining LENS with CNC machining allows damaged material to be removed from a part and the structure restored. An Optomec LENS 3D printer was installed at GIS three years ago, and the university’s Center for Remanufacturing and Resources Recovery (C3R) used the LENS 3D Hybrid Vertical Milling Center in 2016 to restore legacy metal parts, so the university is definitely familiar with the technology.
According to Hansford’s Vice President and COO Bob Krochmalech, a different method would have been more expensive and taken more time.
Krochmalech said, “We would have had to identify more time-consuming and costlier ways to make our custom cutters.”
Walluk said that the LENS printer is optimized for fixing and enhancing metal components, just like Hansford’s broken gear shaft.
“Traditionally, that part would have had to be recycled and become scrap metal,” he said. “We can certainly replicate the 3D printing solution we developed for Hansford’s gear shaft in future applications.”
A 3D printing solution repaired this previously broken gear shaft.
The 3D printing system features a high-powered laser, which 3D prints structures from a recipe of powdered alloys, ceramics, composites, or metal; this results in multiple benefits, such as reduced process time, lower materials and manufacturing costs, and less environmental impacts.
Krochmalech said the additive manufacturing solution was “a complete success.”
“Our machine is working great and back making our cutters,” Krochmalech explained. “I believe in the near future, most if not all prototypes will be 3D printed in the manufacturing arena—even in the smallest shops. Additive manufacturing is instrumental in the reusing and remanufacturing of parts, and saves raw metal and energy resources for a more ‘green’ solution. It’s changing the way we look at manufacturing and engineering components in the future.”
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