Skills Inc. is an aerospace supplier in the Seattle region with a unique distinction—the organization is also a nonprofit social enterprise with an incredibly diverse workforce. More than 60% of Skills employees self-identify with a disability, and the Skills business model involves extensive vocational training and customized employment programs for people with all abilities. Seattle Business Magazine recently named Skills Inc. the “2017 Nonprofit Manufacturer of the Year” in the state of Washington, a prestigious recognition for its quality manufacturing work and positive social impact.
Skills had just won a large sheet metal supply contract which required hundreds of individual parts at low volumes. Many jigs and fixtures were required in order to create these parts, the production of which would be expensive in both production cost and time.
Turning to Account Manager Tomeo Wise at FATHOM’s Seattle-based office, Skills concluded that the Fortus 450mc 3D printer would best fit their application requirement. FATHOM talked with Skills Inc. CEO Todd Dunnington about the ways his team is using 3D printing, the two main goals of his organization, and advice for other manufacturers that are integrating additive.
What made the Fused Deposition Modeling technology particularly well-suited to your application? Why was the Fortus 450mc the right choice for your team?
The 450mc from FATHOM allows us to use many different types of material, and has a good build tray volume for situations when we need to make multiple fixtures. We justified the purchase by using the machine to make tooling for a forming press—tooling must match the contour of the aerospace part and additive manufacturing is a great way to do this.
How have you used your Fortus 450mc so far? Where has it provided the most business advantages and benefits?
Form tooling referenced above is “developed” tooling due to spring-back characteristics of the aluminum sheet that is being formed over the tooling. The process is to make a tool, run a test, and modify the tool to match the spring-back characteristics of the material and contour being formed. In this case, we simply modify the tool using software and make a new one and repeat the test. A well-documented process helps achieved the desired outcome, as you have a record of the tool’s “development.”
On a recent trip to Tulsa to meet with a customer on a problem part, we took a 3D check fixture printed on the 450mc as a way to show them how we were checking their component. The customer was very impressed with our technology and realized that their inspection method was not as accurate as that being utilized by Skills Inc. This facilitated a go-forward strategy that was mutually agreeable to Skills and customer.
Boeing called us with a short flow requirement. While our CNC machining department programmed and worked on the machining of the phenolic part, we were able to also 3D print prototype parts that could be used as samples at other “downstream” operations which were preparing to abrasive blast and paint this short flow component. We also printed a masking fixture for the part to facilitate painting areas specified by the engineer.
How do your 3D printed jigs and fixtures compare to traditionally manufactured jigs and fixtures? Has your production timeline changed?
Time to make form tools and jigs/fixtures has decreased. The complexity of the fixtures that we can make has been increased by the 450mc, opening up the opportunity to provide more tools for our mechanics.
A foundational element of the Skills Inc. mission is providing critical training for employees with a full range of abilities. Has bringing additive manufacturing in-house allowed you to build out additional job training programs? Have any Skills employees become experts in additive?
Skills employs persons with disabilities in all areas. Integrating the Fortus 450mc for making tools has created additional demand for qualified programmers. Skills is fortunate to have several programmers who were eager to apply their technical programming skills to the new 3D printing method for making form tools and fixtures. Programmers, by definition, love new challenges and applications. It’s part of their DNA.
With so many options available, do you have any advice for others who are searching for the right enterprise 3D printing system?
Jump into it. The only way to learn is to start experimenting and doing.
Start a conversation with FATHOM to chat with our experts about using additive for production with the Fortus series, and check out more specifics on the Fortus 450mc and other Stratasys Production-level additive manufacturing machines on the FATHOM website.
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