Feb 16, 2016 | By Alec

When we think of the most important mechanisms around us, the computer chips that rule our digital lives are often the first that come to mind, but springs are just as widespread. In our PCs, locks, pens, cars, in just about every other tool with some sort of mechanism – springs are all around us. What about all those life-saving medical devices? Springs come in all shapes and sizes and are manufactured on a very large scale. And as Tim Parkinson, the Chairman of Airedale Springs just revealed, 3D printing is actually extensively used in spring factories – not as a production tool, but for rapid prototyping and testing.

Airdale Springs is actually a British company founded way back in 1945 that manufactures a wide variety of springs for customers all over the world. And as Parkinson explains, it’s actually quite a complex industry. “Due to the array of functions that springs are required to carry out, a wide array of differences exists between each spring—a spring in a bicycle bell is going to look completely different than a spring used in oil refineries,” he reminds us.

Broadly speaking, however, there are a few different common types: compression springs, that are coiled to perform a squeezing action (often used in electronics), and torsion springs, that create a twisting force. Finally, there are the extension springs found in pens, that extend when a load is applied to it. “With each type of spring, there are a multitude of possibilities that give a once-linear piece of wire the ability to perform in a completely different way. Diameter, materials, and number of coils are the main factors that can alter a spring’s behavior,” he explains.

When clients need springs, they often require specifically tailored designs that fit their specific product – medical specialists often need micro-coils, for instance. These needs create a lot of different factors that all affect the manufacturing process significantly and necessitate a number of testing procedures to ensure everything works perfectly. As Parkinson explains, the majority of springs are currently created on CNC machines. “For instance, the KCT680 CNC coiling machine is used to manufacture compression springs, whereby the user can alter the size, number, and diameter of coils, as well as the distance between each coil,” he says. “Some of these variations aren’t always immediately noticeable to the naked eye. As a result, several industries have incorporated methods to avoid confusion when it comes to implementing their springs.”

Although these springs aren’t actually 3D printed, the technology has already proven itself as a huge addition to this complicated manufacturing and testing process. As is the case in so many other industries, it is seen as an especially useful prototyping tool. “Although some clients will send specific required dimensions without details of the spring’s intended function, not all entrepreneurs are aware of the kind of spring that they need. As a result, they may not have the equipment to work out the specific dimensions they require down to the very last millimeter,” Parkinson explains. Using some 3D printed replicas of springs with different dimensions has proven to be a cost-effective method of finding the right sizes. It’s also much quicker than traditional techniques, Parkinson adds.

Color-coded test springs.

In a nutshell, the clients simply send a blueprint of how the spring should approximately look like, and several 3D printed prototypes are sent over to get the right fit. “The manufacturers will then use the printed model to design and measure how a spring will fit to perform the specified function,” he explains.

But 3D printers have even found their way to the factory floors of spring manufacturers to deal with production variations. “Manufacturing springs on a mass scale means that slight variations are often inevitable, but there is no scope to allow for these differences. By 3D printing a gauge, spring manufacturers can measure whether the spring is the right size and if the end of the wire (in a compression spring, for instance) finishes at the precise moment,” Parkinson explains. Although CNC machines are extremely accurate, this 3D printed gauge will ensure that all are exactly the right size. 3D printers, in short, are even very valuable in industries that don’t involve plastic at all.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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