Carl Zeiss Optical Components, a subsidiary of Carl Zeiss Industrielle Messtechnik GmbH, is a German manufacturer of optical devices. They manufacture microscopes, multi-sensor machines and optical sensors which are used by companies all over the world to inspect and verify what they produce.
The machines ZEISS makes have to be reliable and accurate. They are built to align light to optical measurement axes. This is how they enable pinpoint inspection, measurement and verification. Traditionally, the alignment side comes by way of brackets and adjustment screws. For ZEISS, the fact each machine is unique and therefore requires manual adjustment means their production floor time is eaten up.
“This is not a very stable process, and that’s a problem for us,” says Johannes Grimm, Manager of Operational Excellence at ZEISS, “We were looking for a better solution, and found that solution in 3D printing.”
3D printing in optics
ZEISS uses Ultimaker 3D printers in an end-use capacity. They currently 3D print a bespoke adapter plate for every microscope in serial production. This enables them to ensure each plate is perfect. In this case, that means light travelling exactly in the right direction. This is essential for accurate measurements.
The adapter plate turned out to be a more reliable solution to adjustment screws and brackets. The plate works in place of these, and because it’s printed as one part, it has significantly reduced model complexity.
"[The client] only has to tighten a few screws to replace a very important part that has to be perfectly aligned for a good measurement,” Johannes said. “Traditionally, we had to produce several parts, mount them together, then adjust them. All these things are not necessary with additive manufacturing and 3D printing. That saves a lot of time – that’s very important – and a lot of money."
Another area 3D printing with Ultimaker machines has found value with ZEISS is customisation. They don’t manufacture customised parts for clients, but each part in each microscope is customised in the sense it is unique. Adapter plates are standard parts, but they are set at different angles and 3D printing enables a high level of accuracy.
"We think that individual solutions for meeting customer applications – this bigger trend of individualization – makes it more important to have closed-loop and fast-developed iterations," Johannes said. And iterate ZEISS do, with their production floor manufacturing a wide range of parts and models for optical devices.
Results and ROI
ZEISS use an Ultimaker S5 to manufacture their parts. The S5 has swappable print cores, allowing it to print a wide range of materials. It also boasts dual extrusion, an in-built camera for remote monitoring and a colossal 330 x 240 x 300 mm build volume. It’s one of the finest FDM 3D printers on the market.
The adapter plate application proved the worth of 3D printing overnight. ZEISS found a reliable and cost-effective way to manufacture adapter plates quickly. Later, they started to 3D print jigs and fixtures, allowing them to apply 3D printing in new ways.
"The results were reliable, and the results are repeatable," Johannes says. “That’s important for a stable production process."
Measuring the results ZEISS has witnessed, 3D printing has decreased lead times from months to days by replacing brackets and screws with adapter plates. This extra time is put to good use, with team members able to iterate faster and turn their big ideas into a physical model. The cost per part has also been slashed - a £300 part now costs around £20, depending on the filament used to make it.
Filaments: Multiple, including Tough PLA and Nylon.
This story was adapted from information first published by Ultimaker here. All quotes and images are credited to Ultimaker. If you liked this case study, you can find more like it at our engineering and manufacturing page.