“With every new project or adaptation, we discover more. That’s how it goes, you try something new, you learn something new, you share that information – so at the same time as pushing boundaries you are making these new techniques part of the everyday process. It’s worked so well that we’ve essentially been able to develop ‘trademark’ 3D printed elements that we are known for, such as our Mobile Dispensing Units (MDUs), parts we can then easily manufacture in small series.”
Supporting systems as shop windows
For Inventor Rob Hodgson, another important factor that has supported the company’s rapid adoption of 3DP has been customer reaction. “In addition to 3D printing parts for prototyping/feasibility testing, the quality of the materials means we are able to use printed components on our finished production machines”, says Rob.
“With a material like PA-AF (Aluminum Filled), for example, you can tap it or put in nutserts, so it’s perfect for making complex metal components that can also easily be replaced if needed. And because we can use 3DP in this way, we are also able to improve the aesthetics of solutions we design. For example, many of the parts we are able to create, say in PA-AF or Stainless Steel, negate the need for awkward, unattractive solutions and messy cable areas. They just look much better.
“Remember, these are often multi-million pound machines; systems that reflect major capital investment. First and foremost they have to do a job, but for many of our Blue Chip clients, how these robots look is really important. Recently we worked on a state-of-the-art robot for Liverpool University’s Materials Innovation Factory – a groundbreaking facility available to major companies all around the world. The solution we’ve provided, which features many bespoke 3D printed components, is representing the university – it has to look the part. It is a showpiece for them and effectively a shop window for us. It’s just another great business benefit that has further strengthened our adoption process.
“All these benefits combined, plus the way we’ve been able to partner with Materialise, has meant we’ve quickly normalized something new and made it work for us.”
‘Normalizing new’ down to picking the right partner
Having the ability to blend in-house design expertise with outsourced production through Materialise’s OnSite service has, for Labman, helped them quickly realize a number of key benefits. As Rob explains, “What we’ve been able to do is normalize something new by finding a way of working that suits us, and the right 3DP partner to help get us moving quickly.
“We’ve then been able to build on this foundation to flex our capabilities. For example, while we have the in-house knowledge to give exact 3D print spec and processing briefs through OnSite, we also know we can also call on the design team at Materialise to help us with specific projects that may require more 3DP experience, for instance where we might have tolerance issues for certain material combinations. On the flip side to that, we’ve also introduced our own 3D printer that we can also turn to when needed. Essentially the options we now have in our toolbox means we always have a solution to suit specific project needs.”