Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH Reports Cost Benefits From Incorporating 3D Printing Into Traditional Manufacturing Processes

Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH reduces 50% of the costs by 3D printing casting cores for breast prostheses

A recent announcement from Feldkirchen, Germany has brought attention to a rising trend within the  3D printing industry:  R&D projects certain companies used  to outsource are now being taken on internally thanks to the rising ubiquity and decreasing cost of powerful 3D printers.

Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH of Brannenburg manufactures “bodices, swimwear and breast prostheses.”  By using the monster  X400 3D printer by German RepRap,  to produce molds for breast prostheses they reducing manufacturing costs by about 50%. 

Tech Pro analysts surveyed 624 companies  and placed Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH in the early adopters group of companies that are using 3D printers to reduce manufacturing costs.   Specifically for the company,  product development covers both the actual textiles and the tools needed to shape the customized products.

The junior director of the company, Georg Weber-Unger had epithesises, or silicone prostheses in mind because of the wide variety of types and sizes.   He said, “The moulds have been changing all the time and we need tools for 10 different types in 100 different sizes.”

Traditional manufacturing techniques call for a wooden template to be used in order to create a fiberglass prototype. This was followed by a manual process which takes 2 weeks to create an  aluminium mold for the silicone to be poured into. 

“The two sides were never absolutely identical”, recalled the managing director.  Now the mold is first inputted using CAD software which digitally replicates the mirroring process and readies the file for 3D printing.  In order to get the file, the original aluminium mold is 3D scanned.  The images are stitched together and touched up within 3D CAD software, sliced into g-code and are sent to the 3D printer. A few hours later, the company has a positive copy of the tool.

At the Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH they print with biodegradable PLA (polylactic acid), which has a relatively high tensile strength. The PLA 3D printed model is then casted with sand, and a foundry is used to turn the resulting casting mold into the new aluminium tool. This eliminates the need for more milling.  

Weber-Unger reiterated the cost benefits to the company saying, “The new process saves us about 50% of the development costs.”