4x More Efficient: How Mindware Experts Helped Scale 3D-Printed phits Orthotics

4 min read

Materialise team member checks 3D-printed orthotics

Scaling up 3D printing facilities is all about efficiency. How can companies optimize their machines and processes to meet high customer demand while maintaining low costs and quick lead times? It requires extensive knowledge of additive manufacturing (AM) processes, design, hardware, and software. That’s where Mindware, our 3D printing advisors, step in to guide customers towards success. Read on to discover how we helped the team behind phits™ through the third and final step of the AM journey: Enable.

The final phase of the AM journey: Enable

In this third edition of our blog series, we’re wrapping up the AM journey with Enable. If you missed our previous stories on Explore and Experiment, make sure to check out those articles to learn how Mindware helped various companies through the first two phases. 

Graphic of the Mindware journey between DNA strands
Mindware’s three-phase model covers every step of the additive workflow.

During the Enable phase, Mindware helps 3D printing users optimize and scale production. This phase is for companies that have already proven the value of additive within their production but would like to further optimize their lines to boost efficiency or scale up their operations while maintaining high levels of quality, reliability, and consistency. And to achieve these goals, businesses need experts who thoroughly understand the entire 3D printing process and how each step impacts the rest. That’s where Mindware advisors step in, unlocking business growth by applying their knowledge of software, hardware, design, and more.

Graphic explaining the key challenges for the enable phase
Mindware helps companies tackle the key challenges of the Enable phase.

Transforming production: from walking to running

Let’s dive into a case to learn how Mindware enabled a company to scale up its production. The team behind phits reached out to our experts after growing demand for 3D-printed orthotics meant that they needed to increase production. There was clear potential for the business to grow, but with just two printers building both prototypes and small batches of end-use parts, they needed our assistance to boost efficiency and, therefore, increase production numbers. 

It’s crucial to know that creating a truly efficient 3D printing production takes much more than just purchasing additional printers. Companies need to accelerate printing times, keep costs low, and ensure successful prints each and every time. Each seemingly small change to a printing parameter or design can have a major impact on productivity. Finding these potential adaptations, however, requires extensive knowledge in additive — knowledge which our team provides to others. We started with a thorough analysis of the printing and design processes, set up a pilot printing production, and got to work.

Applying Materialise knowledge to the line

With extensive knowledge in 3D printing software, hardware, design, and processes, our experts had all the experience needed to tweak the printing process and boost productivity. At Materialise, we’re no stranger to established AM production lines.

Materialise's 3D printing facilities
Materialise has one of the largest and most complete 3D printing facilities in the world.

“Within our facilities, we have five certified 3D printing production lines,” says Giovanni Vleminckx, Process Engineering Manager at Materialise. “These include lines for highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and aerospace. When we enter a project like this one with phits, we draw from the knowledge of what makes these work. We knew exactly which processes to address in order to replicate this success with orthotics.”

Although there were many tests and adjustments completed during this process, there were a few examples where the experts created concrete impact. Our experts began by reviewing the scanning pattern of the builds.

Scanning patterns are important to address with expert care because this influences speed, heat transfer, and the drift of excess powder. After running various experiments, the team developed a pattern that scans the cross-sections more efficiently. This involved increasing the size of the laser beam and significantly changing the filling pattern.

Tom Craeghs, Research Manager at Materialise, explains, “By determining the optimized scanning pattern, we created significant reductions in time and unit costs. After scanning the contours of the orthotic, the team could now complete the scan with just one pass of the laser rather than 200 passes with a smaller beam. Plus, we saw an improvement in accuracy due to fewer laser jumps and an increased marking speed.”

Secondly, they optimized nesting, ensuring that as many orthotics as possible could fit into a single build. By tweaking the orientation of the individual parts and reducing the spacing between them, productivity was instantly increased.

3D-printed orthotics powder bed
Optimized nesting increases the number of parts per build.

On a similar note, the team also made small changes to the design, such as reducing the beam sizes of the lattice structures. This optimized printability without negatively impacting the functionality of the finished orthotics.

What did this mean for business?

In the end, the impact that these changes created was not minor. As well as minimizing costs, build time was reduced by nearly a third: from 14 hours to 9.6 hours. This optimized production ultimately meant that each machine could quadruple the number of pairs printed per month. These upgrades were exactly what was needed to meet the growing demand for phits orthotics.

3D-printed orthotic insole
With more efficient additive workflows, phits could maintain quality while meeting growing demand.

When it comes to optimizing printing productions, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to take into account what the goals of the company are, what production looks like, the 3DP methods used, and much, much more.

Our Mindware advisors step into any business utilizing 3D printing — whether they already have a fully operational line or only work with two machines like in this example — to fully optimize production. Businesses need that in-depth knowledge of every single segment of the additive workflow to minimize costs, increase production, or reduce lead times. And with our team is where you’ll find it.

We spoke with Giovanni and Tom to get their insights into this project and Mindware’s role. Check out the video down below to learn even more. 

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