Sep 28, 2016 | By Benedict

Schneider Electric, a French multi-national corporation specializing in electricity distribution, automation management, and energy management, has incorporated Stratasys 3D printing equipment into its manufacturing processes. The company believes it can now meet its short- and long-term efficiency goals.

While different businesses and individuals may have differing conceptions of what the “Factory of the Future” should look like, the increasing adoption of additive manufacturing equipment by manufacturers signals that many industry figures see digital fabrication as an integral part of that vision. The latest big company to signal its intent to create a Factory of the Future is Schneider Electric, a French multi-national corporation that specializes in electricity distribution, automation management, and the production of installation components for energy management. Using a combination of Stratasys PolyJet and FDM based 3D Printing solutions, Schneider will now use 3D printing for product development, prototypes, and industrialization across applications including injection molding and assembly-line tooling, all managed by Openlab, the company’s internal model shop.

Having used Stratasys 3D printing equipment for a number of years at its Grenoble premises in order to create prototypes, Schneider now plans to ramp up its use of the technology as it prepares for an incredibly busy year of product launches. By using 3D printers, the company has been able to save up to 90 percent in terms of both time and money, and will continue to exploit that efficiency over the coming 12 months. “This year, Schneider will launch around 400 new solutions, which is more than one a day,” says Sylvain Gire, Vice-President GSC Transformation-Industrialization at Schneider Electric. “Therefore, it is critical that we adopt technologies that help us reduce time-to-market.”

3D printed injection mold and its resulting part

According to Gire, producing injection mold inserts used for prototypes with a 3D printer rather than via traditional aluminum fabrication methods has reduced the cost from 1000 euros to just 100 euros. Better still, the production time of two months for the old aluminum inserts could be up to two months; with its Stratasys 3D printing equipment, the process can be completed in just a week. The 90 percent savings in both cost and time have therefore convinced Schneider that the Factory of the Future absolutely must involve additive manufacturing.

Schneider Electric’s mechanical design and engineering department has also taken advantage of additive manufacturing technology. The department is responsible for the production of assembly, control, and adjustment tools for various Schneider products, and has adopted 3D printing to produce prototype jigs and fixtures which can be used to validate the ergonomics and functionality of the final assembly tools, currently produced using other methods. These new prototypes are made from a mix of both FDM-based materials (including thermoplastic polycarbonates) and PolyJet materials (such as the highly accurate Digital ABS). “We are increasingly using 3D printing to design and engineer assembly-line tools for validation, thereby saving time in the production of the final tools,” said department manager Yann Sittarame.

3D printed jig

3D printed prototype (center) for electric component housing

In the past, when Sittarame’s department relied mostly on CNC machines, it would have taken at least three weeks to produce manufacturing tool prototypes. Now, however, with Stratasys’ Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, the team can fabricate the prototypes in just a week—a time reduction of around 70 percent. Excitingly, Sittarame speculates that the 3D printers could soon be used to produce not only prototypes, but final end-use parts too: “This technology has changed the way we work and changes the way we think about doing things in the future,” he said. “Looking ahead, we plan to 3D print the final tools, which is perfectly achievable given the accuracy and durability of our 3D printing process.”

“Schneider Electric’s innovative use of 3D printing in their current manufacturing processes and as a key strategy in their Factory of the Future program epitomizes their leadership in global connected energy management,” commented Andy Middleton, President of Stratasys EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). “By partnering with blue chip companies like Schneider Electric, Stratasys is able to demonstrate the strategic value of additive manufacturing and help companies optimize their supply chain efficiencies while bringing better products to market, faster.”



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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