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issue: June 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Engineering - Rapid Prototyping
Curing Developmental Headaches


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by Jill Russell, Assistant Editor

Egyptian appliance maker Olympic Group saved costs and dramatically decreased its development timeframe by implementing rapid prototyping and 3D prints into the initial design process.

Originally a producer of small home appliances, the Cairo, Egypt-based Olympic Group was established in 1939. Today, the company holds the acclaim of producing the area’s first locally produced refrigerator, water heater, oil-filled radiator, and automatic washing machine. Now a producer of both major and small appliances, the company has implemented a new design process that has reduced time and costs, while increasing efficiency and accuracy from prototype to finished product. By using a 3D printer and two rapid prototyping (RP) machines from Stratasys Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN, U.S.), Olympic has changed the way its designers develop and manufacture its appliances.

Research & Selection

“We needed to make enhancements for our designers, from concept to detail design,” says Nader Nabio, mechanical R&D engineer for Olympic. “We needed to do it in a shorter time, so we decided to explore rapid prototyping.” With the goal of streamlining their design process, Olympic attended the 2000 Euro Mold Show, held in Frankfurt, Germany, to scope out possible equipment contenders. “We were already familiar with Stratasys, so we looked at the machines and decided to seek out more information about the company,” explains Mr. Nabio.

After meeting at the show, Olympic visited Stratasys’ German-based office and several of the supplier’s customers throughout Europe and decided to incorporate a 3D printer and two RP machines into its design process. Olympic implemented the Dimension 3D printer and two RP machines, the FDM Maxum™ and the FDM Titan™.

 
The FDM Titan is used to produce small-scale models with ABS or PC material by using software that automatically imports design files and translates data to build functional prototypes.
 

The Dimension

Using computer-aided design (CAD) software to initially create appliance prototypes, Olympic utilizes the Dimension printer to produce 3D plastic models of parts that would have been printed on an ink-jet 2D printer. The 3D printer is desktop-accessible and produces durable, physical models quickly and is used early in the design process to iterate multiple designs and provide the design team with models that can be easily shared for feedback. After the initial scaled-down 3D models are studied and examined, modifications are made, and the design is printed again.

Mr. Nabio says the advantage of being able to quickly create, study, and change a part is one of the main reasons Olympic chose to implement the printers into the company’s design process. “You can use the part directly after making it,” he says. “It is helpful for when we make changes. This helps enhance the design experience. We can look at the parts right away.”

This advantage is one of the many that have helped Olympic reduce its costs while increasing overall design efficiency. “In the design of most products, at least in appliances, there is a 3D part,” says Jon Cobb, vice president and general manager of the 3D printing group at Stratasys. “3D printing is valuable because you are able to then model that particular part and study it in every single dimension.”

According to Olympic, the 3D printer also offers overall performance advantages. “It makes the development time shorter and also less expensive,” Mr. Nabio explains. “If you need to make one or two parts, it is much less expensive. We have young designers, and if they need to gain experience, this is a better way to do it. They can see the part right away; it helps us to better instruct them,” he says.

Once a basic design of the 3D printed model is agreed upon among the team, Olympic’s designers turn to the higher-end RP machines to create models with added details or models that can be tested more rigorously for functionality.

The Maxum and the Titan

Using fused deposition modeling (FDM), the Maxum and Titan RP machines create functional and durable models using both polycarbonate (PC) and ABS plastic depending on the machine. The machines build the models one layer at a time, from the bottom up. After a CAD file is sent to the printer, where the data is read and the design is mathematically sectioned into hundreds of horizontal layers, the software then sends the information for both the design and any support structures back to the RP system as instructions.

Once the instructions are received by the RP system, the machine heats the molding material to a semi-liquid state, where it is extruded from the modeling head to a thickness as fine as 0.005 in. Two modeling heads dispense two different materials, one for the model and one for the support structures, building each part layer by layer. After the model is complete, the support material is manually removed or dissolved.

The time period from data to actual model is dependent on the size and complexity of the specific application and design. After the model has been extruded and the support material has been removed, no additional time is needed before the model can be used. The Maxum and Titan, said to be “office-friendly,” do not have to be installed on the plant floor. In addition, no special vents or permits are required for the operation of the equipment. Materials are also said to be nontoxic and do not use powders or resins that create byproducts.

A Model Example

Olympic, using both the Maxum and Titan RP machines, have, among other projects, tested an oven handle and floor fan prototype before the tooling and production stages. “Olympic utilized our machines and actually built a full-scale prototype, which would be all the components of the fan, as it exists in real life, plus any of the electronics that go into that. So at the end, you have a fully functional fan,” Mr. Cobb of Stratasys explains.

In designing the fan prototype, Olympic used the Maxum to design the housing and casing out of ABS materials. The Maxum machine, featuring a maximum build envelope size of 24 by 20 by 24 in, was used to build the larger parts of the fan in single segments. Designed to build large-scale prototypes, the Maxum features an accuracy rate of 0.005 in for designs up to 5 in, and 0.0015 in on designs greater than 5 in.

When designing the fan blades and additional smaller parts of the fan, including the motor and gears, Olympic utilized the Titan, which builds models with PC material. With a model build envelope size of 16 by 14 by 16 in, the Titan can produce small-scale models with ABS or PC material and features the same accuracy rate of the Maxum. The small parts of the fan made from both printers were then assembled together and engineers were able to conduct tests before the tooling process.

According to Stratasys, the strength of an ABS or PC model made from RP machines compared to a real, injected molded component, rates at an estimated 75 percent. Besides using the RP machines for a fan prototype, Olympic has used the Maxum to form the housing of an oven and utilized the Titan to produce the oven handles and knobs. Olympic says it has found many uses for the RP equipment. “Sometimes [we use it] in concept design, sometimes in industrial design. Sometimes we need details to test the functionality of the design, and sometimes we need to get mockups to the marketing department to help them prepare for work,” Mr. Nabio tells APPLIANCE.

Equipment Advantages

According to both companies, the equipment is easy to install and does not require any additional hardware, ventilation, or special equipment. “It was among the fastest implementations we’ve ever had in the design process,” notes Mr. Nabio. “It was also immediately effective. I don’t think we’ve ever implemented a technology with such ease,” he says.

All equipment can be housed in an office environment, as it is said to not release any fumes and is relatively quiet. Olympic says the only challenge it faced when installing the equipment was due to the environment of its own facilities. “Because we’re in Egypt, it’s extremely dusty,” Mr. Nabio explains. “We had to ensure our lab was dust-free. We needed a clean environment. So, it wasn’t as much as the machine as it was ensuring we had a dust-free prototype lab. That required a great amount of hard work in the construction of the lab.”

The Olympic Group feels the RP equipment is extremely helpful to its team of engineers working on the design process. “Our engineers feel they are better able to create designs,” says Mr. Nabio.

“Whether we’re trying to get a basic idea of a product’s shape or form, or evaluating a final design for mass production, the Maxum, Titan, and Dimension meet all our needs,” confirms Olympic engineer Ahmed Fekry. “As a result, we are developing better designs and are able to get products to market more quickly.”

The largest benefit, according to both companies, has been the savings seen in the tooling process. “We estimate that it cut down our development time by about 25 percent and that it cut development costs by 40 percent,” Mr. Nabio says. “Before we used Stratasys machines, it was a headache in development.”

 
The Dimension 3D printer uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to create models made of functional ABS plastic parts.

 

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