Manufacturing is a high-stakes business. If there are delays at any stage in any process, companies risk losing money and often face a whole host of other problems, particularly when it comes to employees.
“A lot of our customers have critical projects that need to be running smoothly,” explains Richie Barker, Chief Operating Officer at FasTech LLC. “If they can’t get parts delivered to the right quality and on time it could have a knock-on effect on the customer’s workforce”. So it’s not just about the cost of the part; it’s also about the implications of that part not being available. You could have people idle for up to ten weeks as a result, and nobody looks at that.”
Enforced employee idleness like this is known as a soft cost because the actual monetary price is challenging to quantify. However, there is no doubt that such inefficiency will lead to a loss for the business somewhere down the line, so it is essential to minimize disruptions to employee productivity wherever possible.
With this in mind, FasTech puts a premium on efficiency. Over the years, it has turned to streamline the manufacturing process into something of an art form by focusing on the following critical elements.
Readily Available Material
“The biggest problem I’m seeing is people being able to find the material and get parts made in a reasonable lead time,” Richie explains. “Everything I hear seems to be can’t get material, can’t get forgings, can’t get castings. Everything is delayed. Something that would normally take three months is taking seven or eight now, and the prices are significantly jumping. Everything is costing more.”
“With FasTech, you don’t have to wait for material because we use standard off-the-shelf wire consumable, and you won’t have to print as much, so it won’t take anywhere near as long to do.”
Richie continues, “The wire is much more readily available because of the solid partnerships Fastech has built with some of the world’s premium wire suppliers and mills. It’s hard to adjust the size of a lot of material (particularly if you want to make it bigger), but we can be so flexible with the wire. We can adjust the geometry of the parts very quickly to a customer’s needs using CAD.”
Processes That Require Less Material And Produce Less Waste
FasTech makes products using wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM), which has been widely credited with increasing efficiency within the industry by reducing the amount of material required for each creation, improving lead times, and cutting down on the waste generated within the manufacturing process.
“When a customer comes to us with a problem, we give them options,” Richie explains. “We show them how we could make a printed part instead of a machined part using our technology, and we highlight the net reduction in material and waste.”
“Most of all, we demonstrate the difference it will make to the customer if they move to WAAM. We show them how we could take a plate and create the geometry of the near-net-shape part they want. We tell them about the benefits in terms of cost and lead time.”
Richie continues, “Then we demonstrate via CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) simulations , or even sometimes just a hand-written sketch. We illustrate how they do it today and how we would do it instead.”
The critical detail here is the ability of WAAM to produce parts using less source material. For example, because it can create something near to the net shape, this type of manufacturing can often make a 15kg (33lb) part using 20kg (44lb) of material instead of 30kg (66lb).
However, the advantages do not end there, as Richie explains: “In conventional manufacturing, you need a lot of space for material, there’s a lot of time and money involved in handling all of it, and there are additional costs for tool and machine wear and material waste too. And the wear can be particularly bad if you’re regularly cutting down large blocks of material into smaller parts.”
“With WAAM, there is a lot less material involved, and it is a much simpler process. All you need to do is buy your wire, which requires far less space to store, and then print your part and machine it. It’s as simple as that.”
Greater efficiency With 3D Printing
“We’ve got a part we’re working on just now,” Richie says. “It only takes 20 hours for the customer to machine currently, but they then have to post-process it with another 50 or 60 hours of manual welding, re-machining, and adding other parts. We take 40 hours to print and machine it, but all they have to do after that is drill some holes. We’ve been able to make the part faster and make it in a single piece. In this way, we can take parts that would typically be multi-piece and make them a single piece.”
3D printing has enabled manufacturers to construct complex parts from a single piece of material. It can make complex shapes using a single plate where previously multiple pieces would be required to achieve the same geometry.
“You could have something that currently takes up to 15 steps,” Richie explains. “These include: order raw material, get your casting, machine it, inspect it, purchase additional components, weld them on, put it back in the machine, re-weld it, add more components, and then post-process it. Now, we print it, machine it, and then they drill some holes. It’s so much simpler.”
In summary, it is the greater efficiency of 3D printing that produces so many savings. The material itself is more expensive, but the machining produces a fraction of the waste and can take as little as a quarter of the time. When you add all of this together, you are looking at a potential cost saving of around 50%.
And it’s also great from an environmental perspective because you are using less material in the first place and not wasting as much as you go along, which means you could use less electricity and reduce your carbon footprint.