United Equipment Accessories (UEA) recently purchased a 3D printer and we have been busy testing and printing. So far, we have used the 3D printer for slip ring covers, slip ring bases, brush arms, shifter components, entire shifters, assembly fixtures, and other items for use on our factory floor.
The 3D printing industry is exciting (at least for us)! The technology is literally changing every day. New filaments, new techniques, new types of printers are being developed at a break neck speed. A few recent advancements I find very interesting include:
- Polycarbonate Filament: Unlike the “standard” PLA and ABS filaments, polycarbonate filament is very strong and can be used for weight bearing applications at a competitive price.
- Graphene PLA Filament: This is regular PLA mixed with graphene. Not only does it print easy, but it is also conductive.
Since acquiring this printer, I have had opportunities to print parts and have been impressed with the high-quality output and dependability. Where once there was worry about printer failure halfway through a print, this new 3D printer eliminates those worries allowing us to have the confidence to do longer prints and saving time, effort, electricity and plastic!
To say we have only scratched the surface would be an understatement. This value-added technology can help us better perform our jobs and has challenged us to think differently.
3D printing uses additive manufacturing (combining material), as opposed to subtractive manufacturing (taking material away) to make a component. Thinking in additive manufacturing terms is a paradigm shift in thought process, and allows one to see issues and problems in a different light. This shift in thought process will help us with classic subtractive manufacturing issues, for instance, trying to make a shape within a shape, or making a non-straight hole.
3D printers themselves are also becoming very inexpensive, which I believe has been the catalyst for the entire industry - allowing for a large base to market new 3D printing products to. On the horizon will be 3D metal printers. Incredibly expensive right now, I believe, just like FDM plastic printers were 10 years ago prices for metal printers will tumble quickly and the effects of 3D printing metal components will be tremendous. One can only speculate on the transformative power that metal printing will bring to industries.
This 3D printer is getting our engineers at UEA ready and prepared for future technologies that require a different mindset and thought process. This in turn will help UEA be more competitive in the markets that we are in and for our customers, offering even more custom solutions . . . and that is good for everyone!
Senior Design Engineer