There is no doubt that 3D printing technology’s concept is good – it has many advantages than substractive manufacturing in some special applications. But we can see that the 3D printing technology was applied in limited fields and many 3D printing technology relative companies are struggling to survive. The root cause is partially due to the fact that the technology is not good enough now; also because 3D printing technology providers are lack of knowledge in target application fields.

The good thing is the 3D printing technology is getting better and better, and more and more people are dedicated to real applications of this technology. REPRAPPER TECH is a professional 3D filament manufacturer. Here I will share a case how we use FDM 3D printing technology to accelerate our production and meet customer’s urgent delivery time.

1. Background

In Feb 2015, we got an order that needed 20000 pcs of 100g PLA 1.75mm filament with urgent lead time (3 weeks).

Package requirements:

100g per pcs, no spool, with desiccant and customized plastic packing bag. The package like the following plastic bag.


                                    Picture 1: Final 100g filament package

Considering the peak period of orders after Chinese New Year vacation, it is a tough task for us. We wanted to test our internal team work efficiency and our innovation under pressure this time.

2. How?

For normal 1kg production, there are about 4 minutes per kg. For 100g production, of course we can not calculate it as 0.4 minutes because it is not possible for loading and unloading filament. So one circle of 100g filament per line would take at least 1 minute. That means the total production time is 20000 minutes per line, i.e. 333.3 hours/13.9 days per line by running the machine 24 hours with no efficiency loss.

It seemed we needed to make tools and fixture design first in order to make one cycle quickly. What kind of fixture should we use?

Should we use the traditional mechanical manufacturing process? And with aluminum or wood? Just like the picture below?


                                        Picture 2: Aluminum                                                                               Picture 3: Wood

Both were fine if they could be produced within a quick time. When we contacted the supplier, one answer is: “we are still on Chinese New Year vacation, we will be back after 7days.”; another one is :“we will be back two days later, but we need 5 days to produce it because first day we need to maintain our machine.”

Not to mention how expensive their fixture was. It seemed they could not meet the delivery time. What should we do to meet our promise?

Then we held a brainstorming meeting. An idea came up that, why not use 3D printer to print a fixture? The only thing about the fixture was their short life cycle. But we only needed it for short term running – only 2~3 weeks’ life cycle. Why not?

We realized that it would be a good idea. Then we wrote down the requirements of 3D printed model:

(1)  The model could wire 100g filament;

(2)  The filament could be unloaded easily;

(3)  The filament must not be disordered during unloading.

Then we designed the fixture and printed it immediately. The first sample was like this:


                                                                                                              Picture 4: 1st design

Seemed good, but when we wired filament on the fixture, we found that it was hard to unload filament as there was no slope on the ring’s surface. See picture 4.

Then we designed a new fixture that had slope on the ring surface. Like picture 5. 


                                                                                                                Picture 5: 2nd design

In fact it was still not perfect. With this fixture, we still could not grab the filament with fingers. This would take more time for us to unload filament.

Then we designed the final version (see Picture 6) with some grooves on the surface. Furthermore, in order to make the filament unloading easier, we made the fixture with our flexible filament.


                                                                                                                Picture 6: 3rd design

And the result seemed great. See the pictures below:


                                         Picture 7: Real production situation                                                               Picture 8: Mass production

3. Results

Using this 3D printed fixture made us able to produce 20000 pcs 100g filaments within 1 week, with two production line’s 24 hours * 7 days running. Obviously we met customer’s required delivery time.

From micro perspective, if I used traditional method to get this fixture, it would cost us 7 days and $90 per fixture, 4 fixtures means we needed to pay $360. On the contrast, with 3D printing method, it took me 1 day and only $20 as we made the fixture with our flexible filament. :)

From macro perspective, if we could not show our ability of on-time delivery, we may lose this customer. Our on-time deliver guaranteed our sustainable business relationship.

4. Thoughts

This is just one case of how 3D printing technology can be applied in our real world. As I mentioned, the 3D printing technology’s concept is really good. We need to keep an eye on how to maximize its advantages in real application, not just visual aids. We should have confidence that, the technology will be better and better, and it shall benefit more and more people involved in this field. 3D printing, as one kind of technology that beyond imagination through innovation, is the future. Are you ready?