Wood manufacturing businesses and suppliers of tools and machinery that support them are adopting 3D printing technology for prototyping and, in some cases, parts manufacturing. 

3D Printed Laboratory Furniture Prototype

Servco Resources Sdn. Bhd designs, manufactures and installs laboratory furnishings across Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Established in 1990, the company has installed systems in thousands of schools, universities, research agencies and industrial facilities.
 
Recent accolades from the Malaysian government put Servco in a position to grow quickly. Inclusion in Malaysia’s TERAS program recognizes Servco as having a quality management team, products with global export value, and the potential to become a private listed company. With this stamp of approval, Servco was looking for technology that would help it to advance to the next level.
 
Servco 3D Printed Prototype Parts
Many accurate 3D printed prototypes come together in Servco’s thorough testing.
Updating its prototyping process offered a great opportunity. “When we produced mockups of our lab furniture systems, we had to refine the prototype part by part as each part could affect all the others. This is a very long, tiring and costly effort. We were not able to produce new products as quickly as we wanted to,” said Taufiq Rosidi, Chief Strategy Officer. “We were also exposed to possible intellectual property theft when we outsourced the manufacturing of parts that we could not produce quickly enough ourselves.”
 
Innovating in-house
Servco decided to invest in a 3D printer to create prototypes more quickly and speed its product-development process. After researching vendors, the company chose Stratasys. “The Stratasys 3D Printer can print very detailed, refined models,” explained Rosidi. Specifically, the company chose an Objet30 3D Printer, which fits on a desktop. Rosidi praises its ease of use and the fact that it needs no specialized skills to operate.
 
Servco 3D Printed Prototype Assembled
The 3D printer has doubled the number of prototypes Servco can create each month. These prototypes let Servco study new ways to improve products, test new products before committing to production and provide models for focus groups. “We have reduced production errors and eliminated the need for expensive tooling at the early stages of the production,” Rosidi said.
One example is its flexible and mobile lab system, Eagle, which was commercially ready in half the time compared to previous new products. Moreover, since the 3D printer is inhouse, intellectual property stays right in Servco’s facility, secure from theft.
 
Teaching Laboratory, Mechanical Engineering Faculty of the Universiti Teknologi MARA, Pasir Gudang, Malaysia.  http://servco.com.my/reference-projects
 
Further, in-house 3D printing has helped Servco’s sales and marketing team win clients, including for the Eagle project, because working proof-of-concept models demonstrate what Servco is capable of. “It is much easier to convince clients when they are able to see the prototypes earlier. The Objet30 3D Printer has also allowed us more flexibility in tweaking designs to meet customer requirements,” he said.
 
Servco is able to work on more projects simultaneously since investing in the 3D printer. In general, Servco has seen turnaround times and time to market halved across all projects, with varying savings on production cost. He credits these improvements to a 50 percent drop in common errors, such as parts not functioning or not fitting together well.
“With a Stratasys 3D Printer, we can develop new and exciting products rapidly and penetrate untapped markets,” concluded Rosidi

Oil Rig Helmsman's Chair

 
Designed for an off-shore oil-drilling rig, this drill-operator control chair was prototyped with the help of a Fortus 3D Printer. Then 25 of its components were manufactured by the Fortus 3D Printer.
 
SAP (Sørlandets Aluminiumprodukter) in Kristiansand, Norway, designs and manufactures products for demanding marine environments. It produces helmsman chairs, table columns and other equipment for the marine industry as well as custom products for the offshore industry. Tight deadlines and high expectations are daily challenges faced by the team at SAP, and it needed a solution to speed up design without compromising accuracy.
 
Following its success with outsourced prototyping work, SAP justified having its own in-house 3D printer. Product development manager Harald Jansen says they needed to prove out more than just aesthetics. “Mocking up a beautiful but fragile product is one thing,” he says, “but we needed to determine more than just whether it looked nice. We needed to test fit and functionality as well. The Fortus machine offered capacity, a variety of performance materials, quality finish, and virtually no post processing. It was clearly the solution for us.”
 
Beyond Prototyping
 
The technology has changed the way SAP works. Its first project, based entirely on prototyping, was an iterative feasibility study for a new table column with adjustable, telescopic height. Over a two-week period, designers produced a dozen different models, with varying designs, in both polycarbonate and ABS. “The prototypes gave us the clear answers we were looking for,” says Jansen. “This was the kind of product development we wanted, and yet we had barely begun to see its potential.”
 
Prototyping turned out to be the tip of the iceberg for SAP, as it quickly learned how durable the parts could be. Andy Smith, SAP’s industrial designer, elaborates on the company’s transition from prototyping to manufacturing. “We were struggling to meet a deadline on a series of particularly complex driller operator chairs for the offshore industry. Most of the design was completely new, yet it had to be out of the door in a matter of days.” As a shortcut, the team used the Fortus 3D Printer to pump out small, intricate parts for testing. Not only were they strong and durable, the shiny black parts looked so good on the chairs that the team knew they could be more than just prototypes.
 
“There was absolutely no reason why they couldn’t be production parts,” says Smith. “The FDM parts simplified the designs for complex moving and interlocking mechanisms, they stood up to all our testing, and the company who ordered the chairs loved the look.” Equally important, the customer has satisfactorily integrated the product into drilling solutions in service in the North Sea.
 
SAP now produces hundreds of production parts – many of them unusual looking designs that would otherwise require injection molding – that are generally ready the next day. “Who would have guessed we’d be actively engaged in direct digital manufacturing on a daily basis so soon after investing in a new prototyping tool?” says Smith.
 
Jansen summarizes, “We knew the [Fortus] machine would cut development time; we knew it would save money; we knew it would be exciting. But we had no idea that our original plan for the prototyping machine would be turned on its head. We had anticipated that in terms of machine use, prototyping would outweigh production by a very large margin, yet today around 70 percent of the parts are for production. Compressing the design cycle like this has been nothing short of revolutionary for us.”
 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.