Adding Value With 3D Printing

Investing In Continuous Improvement 

Posted on 02/27/2019 | by The Orbitform Blog Team


Orbitform strives to be on the cutting edge of continuous improvement. We invest heavily to be the best versions of ourselves, in both our employees and our manufacturing processes. Our latest investment in continuous improvement is our new 3D Printing Cell, along with a Mechanical Engineer dedicated to 3D printing.


How it all began

In early 2018, Orbitform invested in a Markforged Mark Two 3D printer to begin testing the feasibility and value of adding 3D printing to our capabilities. During this trial period, we printed various machine components to test their strength and durability. Through this, we started to identify a number of opportunities to incorporate 3D printing throughout our products and provide higher value to our customers.

Where we are now

After the success of this trial period, Orbitform further invested, creating a dedicated 3D Printing Cell in our 120,000 square foot factory in Jackson, Michigan. With six 3D printers, including three Fusion 3 printers and three Markforged printers that produce high quality parts, we have already found value in this process.

Value Added - Design Iterations & Quick Turnaround

With the new 3D Printing Cell, we have found a number of ideal uses that add value to the Orbitform team, as well as our customers. The 3D printers allow us to quickly prototype and test part designs. We can easily work through a number of design iterations to ensure the part functions properly and reduce the amount of rework required during machining. One automotive manufacturer required a unique part holding fixture. With our new workcell, we were able to 3D print fixtures that matched the contour of the part’s complex geometry. Orbitform’s engineers worked through several design iterations to ensure the part could be loaded quickly and correctly.

Having 3D printing capabilities in-house also allows us to provide quick turn-around on critical parts as a stopgap measure for machine maintenance emergencies. For one customer, we provided 3D printed grippers for an auto unload station within a day while they waited for grippers to be made through our machine shop. This allowed the customer to continue production while their spare tooling was being manufactured and machined.

More Examples - Non-Conductive Fixtures & New Products

For customers requiring eddy current sensors, our 3D printing capabilities solve a key challenge. Typically, these sensors test the conductivity of the parts being formed, notifying the operator to reject bad parts. For this to work properly, any part holding fixture cannot be made of metal. By using our 3D printers, we are able to make fixtures out of non-conductive materials.

Bringing 3D printing capabilities inside the Orbitform walls has also spurred new product development. Our engineers designed an Orbital Safety Probe to increase the safety of our Orbital Riveting Machines. This safety probe acts as a shroud over the orbital head, advancing before the peen tool and stopping the equipment if it meets any obstructions. The challenge was to design a product that would fit around our orbital heads, not bounce during the advance stage, and not hurt if someone’s hand was under the probe. With a unique shape and weight restrictions, it was an ideal candidate for 3D printing. With the 3D printed shield, the Orbital Safety Probe is now a cost-effective standard product.

Looking Ahead

As we continue to learn about 3D printing and incorporate it into our manufacturing process, we know we are opening the door for many future opportunities. We currently have a plan to convert 300 different parts over to 3D printing, accounting for 7,000 pieces manufactured through our machine shop each year. By converting them over, it opens our machine shop up to take on a greater increase in the production of other parts and products.

Orbitform is also looking to the future of manufacturing as a whole. As we expand our knowledge of 3D printing, we are setting ourselves up for future success. With metal 3D printing on the rise and advancing quickly, we are excited about the possibilities. Being able to print to near shape and then finish critical features through our machine shop after will increase the value we can bring to our customers.

At Orbitform, we understand the value of continuous improvement. We strive to be the best versions of ourselves as individuals and as a manufacturing company. As we continue to look for areas of improvement and new opportunities, we keep the customer at the forefront of our minds. Each day, we work towards finding solutions that delight our customers.