When you want to listen to music, chances are you have used an online streaming service such as Spotify. Just select a song and click to play.
What if it was just as easy to do the same thing when you need a part to run your packaging machine? “What if”, it turns out, is right now.
A new click-to-print system is now in use that can bring your packaging operations an additive manufacturing (3D printing) solution that combines the simplicity of streaming music with the sci-fi transport of “use of a Star Trek replicator,” said Marcus Schindler, director of supply chain for Gerhard Schubert GmbHpackaging machine builder for Nestlé, Unilever, Roche, Italian confectioner Ferrero and other consumer products brands.
Key benefits touted by proponents of additive manufacturing include reduced tooling costs; more control and innovation over part design; greater manufacturing precision; faster design reviews/iterations; shorter lead times and reduced deployment time; and less waste for greater environmental sustainability. As the method matures, the price/performance ratio indicates more and more solutions that combine the right materials and printers to provide new packaging line solutions.
“We believe that on-demand manufacturing and manufacturing-to-customer distribution is a superior approach,” says Schindler, who is also co-CEO of Schubert Additive Solutions, a new sister company formed last year to develop a click-to-print solution to send data instead of parts so customers can print their own, on-site, with expert knowledge of design or 3D printing. Instead, they browse their online parts catalog or “digital warehouse” account to find the part they need, click and printing begins automatically.
Parts can be standard spares and spares already available in the machine builder’s virtual stores, as well as custom tools for product format and packaging changes, such as end-of-line robotic tools. arm (EoAT).
The first installation took place last year when a cosmetics brand installed the solution in its factory. Although most details are not yet public, Schindler reports that a complete set of format change parts, from empty container to end of line, costs less than €1,000 using the onsite 3D printing solution. See this cosmetic line and other in this video.
Since that installation, four additional packaging lines have added the printers and five more early adopters have purchased the system for non-packaging applications.
For packaging customers, the system removes technical barriers to adoption. In reality, many already use printed parts and may not know it. According to Schindler, the machine builder has used additive manufacturing in every machine it has made since 2012 – from a few hundred to 45,000 last year and around 65,000 this year. Hundreds of thousands of printed parts are now running off the packaging lines in the field.
How it works?
The new solution, called Partbox, is the result of a partnership with an additive manufacturing solution provider Ultimaker.
Here’s how it works: The user, such as an authorized packaging manager, logs into their personal Partbox digital warehouse account (at partbox.fr), select the part(s) and quantities from the software catalog or “digital warehouse” and click to print. That’s about all there is to it beyond loading the material (see image below).
Schubert didn’t stop after-sales service and support, so he still sells parts, 3D printed or not. Instead, he designed the Partbox system so that users could not open and edit part files. Instead, the system protects and guarantees the quality, safety and performance of the printed parts while protecting its own intellectual property. The closed-loop system is much like Apple’s iTunes music store in that it creates a walled garden of protected files.
Data communication, from software to printer to financial invoicing of parts, is managed by an industrial gateway dedicated to the Internet of Things (IoT) developed by Schubert System Electronics and Genua GmbH, the German IT security subsidiary of the Federal Printing Office in Germany. This walled garden approach eliminates the possibility of using a potentially infected USB drive to transfer files to the printer and eliminates the cyber risk of opening factory networks to the internet.
Schubert has partnered with Ultimaker for their $1 million/plus in-house machines that print metal and plastic parts, and for the Partbox, a scaled-down printer is used to print standard parts, from gears to EoATs with optimal price and performance.
Methods, materials and money.
Schubert’s original parts use printing processes including Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which fuses polymer powders with a resolution matching injection molding. Partbox printers use fused deposition modeling (FDM), which melts and extrudes thermoplastic filament (primarily polylactic acid or PLA with some use of polyethylene terephthalate gly or PETG). The level of strength and detail is optimal for format parts and the like, but costs much less – around 10,000 euros versus 1 million euros.
No machine can do it all: if a part is too big or unsuitable for the Partbox, Schubert will revert to other 3D or traditional manufacturing methods and ship the physical parts. Corn additive manufacturing is undoubtedly progressing to encompass broader applications. A concrete example : Packaging Summary September report on a new laser-based technique to use several materials simultaneously to print a part.
Today, Schubert offers standard parts to all customers, while new custom parts can be added to meet users’ plans for new products and formats. According to Schindler, cycle times for a part that would have taken three weeks with traditional methods can now take two weeks with iterative 3D designs. When a customer needs a new format part, Schubert designs, tests and certifies the new part, then adds it to the customer’s Partbox account.
The speed of 3D printing has been proven elsewhere. For example, Heineken, independent of Schindler but also using Ultimaker printers, has found that if a faulty part causes a bottling line stoppage, a new part can be printed in eight to 10 hours – from design to completion – instead of days (or much longer, depending on Global Logistics) for a machine supplier to ship a part that is already in stock. Isabelle Haenen, global supply chain purchasing manager at Heineken, said last year that the company was “still in the early stages of 3D printing, but we have already seen a reduction in costs”. [per printed part] from 70% to 90% and also a decrease in the delivery time of these applications from 70% to 90%.” (See the video “Heineken: ensuring production continuity with 3D printing”)
Reducing complexity leads to better parts.
“Complexity is free,” says Schindler, referring to the new, optimized part designs that 3D brings. “This is the secret of additive manufacturing. We can make better parts and we can reduce the number of parts and the time you need to assemble the parts. And we can design better performing, more efficient and lighter parts,” says Schindler.
3D modeling and iterative design can simplify and streamline part designs to reduce wear, weight, and performance compared to traditional parts.
In one case, a new tooling design made it possible to turn a machine with two robots, one for erecting cartons and the other for filling bottles, into a single-robot process, Schindler says. Elsewhere, new tool designs that slide and clip on gear changes on cosmetic compact packaging lines and bottle fillers – a single part can be swapped out in seconds, reducing complexity and speeding up format changes. This, and the addition of color-coded tools, makes it easy to transition from chocolate bunnies to chocolate Santas.
In another successful application, a new 3D design for a robotic tool provided surprising advantages over a complicated EoAT assembly on a line of coffee cups. Prior to 3D design, the tool consisted of 192 smaller CNC-milled parts with 1,000 screws, and took an entire day to assemble and mount on the robotic arm. The new 3D design uses only three parts and only eight screws.
“Additive manufacturing significantly reduces the cost of the process, but most companies don’t see the full savings effect until they calculate the total cost of the process,” says Schindler. These include storage, production availability, line/labor productivity and other factors. In transportation, Schindler says the 3D solution reduces the carbon footprint per printed part between 40% and 89% because there are no parts to ship. The savings were calculated as part of an employee’s master’s thesis studying the contact points between raw materials and shipped parts versus printed parts.
Schindler says he is now in talks with “very large companies” and that customers in the United States have shown great interest and are “much more open” to the technology than European customers. He adds that a fairly common reaction from packaging professionals who see the solution in action is something like, “Whoa! It’s cool.”