Boost Productivity by Replacing Metal Tools with Custom 3D-Printed Tools
Isaac Maw posted on September 14, 2017 | 2141 views

The competitive nature of the electronics industry continually leads companies to look for new ways to accelerate product launches while maintaining or lowering its production costs.

Recently, office equipment manufacturer Ricoh Japan found an opportunity to do just that with their jigs, fixtures and tooling.

“Because we are producing an enormous number of parts, it takes a lot of time and effort to identify the right jigs and fixtures for each one. This manual process has become even lengthier as the number of components grows, requiring that an operator examine the shape, orientation and angle of each part before taking out a tool and placing it back in its original fixture,” said Taizo Sakaki, senior manager of business development at Ricoh Group.

“The operators were occasionally annoyed with the many different tools, and we were looking for a way to accelerate tooling to match our manufacturing schedule. Now with Stratasys 3D printing, we are able to customize the tools according to the part and produce them on demand, which is helping us restructure and modernize our production process,” Sakaki added.

Replacing traditional metal tooling with customized, lightweight 3D-printed jigs and fixtures for its Production Technology Center assembly line is improving the company’s manufacturing efficiency while minimizing manual tooling errors. The assembly line, located in the northeast branch of Ricoh Industries in Miyagi prefecture, Japan, is dedicated to manufacturing large-format printers. 

Ricoh has a video about the upgrades. Check it out:

By producing the tools in durable ABS thermoplastic on its Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer, Ricoh is able to customize each tool precisely according to the part geometry while reducing the tool’s weight. This has enabled Ricoh to accelerate their existing manufacturing process, in which an operator typically handles more than 200 parts each day.

Optimizing the Workbench with 3D Printed Fixtures

Prior to using 3D printing, Ricoh had to outsource machine cut tools, which could take two weeks or longer. Now, Ricoh’s operators can determine the shape and geometry of a fixture that corresponds to its associated part through 3D CAD software and 3D print it in one day.

This leaves the workers more time to attend to other stations. Moreover, new hires can now adapt to the tools and the workstations in just two days, where previously a new worker had to spend at least one week to learn all the tools.

The jigs and fixtures are also much lighter, enabling workers to use them for a prolonged period without fatigue.

“The Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D printing solution enables us to realize designs that are difficult for conventional cutting methods to replicate, such as hollow interiors, curves or complex shapes. The material used to 3D print the tools is very strong and anti-static, which is important due to the large number of electronic components we are assembling,” explained Sakaki.

Ricoh’s large-format printer assembly plant has been quick to adopt digital manufacturing ideas, and the company continues to explore areas where 3D printing can be applied to expedite workflows, such as molding and low-volume production.

For more information about 3D printing fixtures and jigs, click here.

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