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How 3D Printing Helped Grow Woodhall Products

3D

To say precision engineering concerns itself with the design of machines, fixtures, and other mechanical and electronic components would be a little basic. It's just as much about understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between machine and use, and the development and refinement of structures to make them function optimally. This is achieved by making the cause-and-effect relationship explainable in engineering terms.

For Woodhall Products, an engineering, 3D design and printing company, manufacturing and precision engineering is a way of life. They have served their industry for over 20 years, and have an illustrious product portfolio to show for it. From pipe management fixings to steel ferrules for composite panels, they can design and manufacture products for virtually any application. In fact, many of their orders are for custom parts.

And in true engineering style, they do all this in-house. Their manufacturing capability is enhanced with access to CNC milling and laser cutting machines, but these manufacturing methods aren't always suitable for complex custom parts. For some of these, they make use of 3D printing, which has the benefit of being able to take a digital drawing and transform it into a physical object overnight. Or in a day. Whichever works for them.

The problem

It wasn't just the manufacturing limitations of CNC machining that led Woodhall products to explore 3D printing. In their case, they found production runs being continually interrupted to produce samples for customers. They would set their CNC machine up for a production run, only to have to pause production and reset it to produce a different sample.

Now we know what you're thinking - why not just get another CNC machine? Well, the combination of labour, setup time, and manufacturing limitation meant a smarter solution was needed.

After some research into the market, particularly around materials and how composites can be used to make parts are strong as metal parts, the team at Woodhall products decided to invest in two Markforged Mark Two 3D printers. These promised to make parts as strong as metal without any of the labour associated with CNC machining and tooling.

The solution

slicing

The Markforged Mark Two is a standout 3D printer for engineering and manufacturing. It prints in nylon, with a second extruder that prints a composite - fibreglass, high-temp fibreglass, Kevlar, or carbon fibre. The nylon is reinforced with continuous strands of the composite during printing, to yield parts that are as strong as or stronger than their metal counterparts. Because the parts are made from composite, they also last longer in high-wear applications.

Alternatively, you can print Onyx, a Markforged material. It's a nylon and chopped carbon fibre hybrid which can also be reinforced with further strands of a composite.

For Woodhall Products, the Mark Two's ability to print four types of composite meant they could apply it to various manufacturing runs. The newfound capability to load a customer sample, press print, and leave it to do its business was also a huge appeal for them.

The results

Thanks to these two 3D printers, Woodhall Products no longer face the issue of having to stop production runs to accommodate customer samples. Samples can be 3D printed in around 24-hours or less, with the only labour time involved being the uploading of the file and selecting the correct print settings.

The team 3D prints parts in different materials, according to the customer's requirement. They make good use of nylon and fibreglass and have started experimenting with Onyx. Fibreglass is the cheapest composite out of the bunch, while carbon fibre is the strongest.

Regardless of the materials used, however, Woodhall has seen operational improvements across the board. They have had a massive increase in speed in terms of how quickly they can produce parts and samples for customers, which has improved their order rate and relationship with customers. Repeat customers are also more delighted than ever about the service they receive.

The team also have a Formlabs Form 2 3D printer, a stereolithography machine, which can produce parts that are more complex in nature than FFF machines.

Woodhall Products use their Form 2 and Mark Two 3D printers for different applications.

3D Printers: Mark Two. The team also have a Form 2, which has since been replaced by Formlabs with the Form 3

The materials used: Onyx, Nylon, Fibreglass. 

If you enjoyed this case study, you can find more like it at our engineering and manufacturing page. All images are credited to Woodhall Products

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