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With a 3D printer, spare parts on demand can now be produced directly in the manufacturer’s production facility (Images: Gerhard Schubert GmbH).
With a 3D printer, spare parts on demand can now be produced directly in the manufacturer’s production facility (Images: Gerhard Schubert GmbH).

3D printing is revolutionising component design and warehousing

3D printing is booming and has established itself as a recognised manufacturing technology. Now the revolutionary technology is approaching the next threshold: Using its own part streaming platform, Schubert Additive Solution supplies 3D parts on demand for the packaging industry.

Fantastic structures with organic shapes, perfect statics and minimal material usage – 3D printing is igniting creative ideas that are revolutionising mechanical engineering. For more than six years, Crailsheim-based packaging machine manufacturer Schubert has been working with parts sourced directly from the printer. Digitally designed 3D components are now used in each of its TLM systems, opening up a whole new world of opportunity. This digital cultural change calls for daring, as traditional boundaries need to be overcome. And it takes sound reasoning to realistically break new ground in an environment that is filled with a rich diversity of possibilities and the vast freedom of three-dimensional construction. With this in mind, the decisive questions in any 3D production are whether, and for which machine parts, the fascinating process is economically viable.

Design freedom opens up new possibilities

The advantages in the packaging process are impressive: “3D printing offers us design freedom that was previously unthinkable,” explains Marcus Schindler, Managing Director of Schubert Additive Solutions GmbH. “Today, we can produce precisely fitting tools for fragile and complex product shapes in one piece, without the need for many individual parts and fastening screws. The printed plastic components are more form-fitting and lighter than their metal counterparts, but just as robust.” For example, fragile ice cream wafer cones are now processed with optimally profiled tools – which cannot be compared with multi-edged sheet grippers. Incidentally, Schubert was the first manufacturer in the industry to offer food-certified 3D tools with ideally hygienic surfaces.

On demand 3D parts support flexible production

A decisive argument in favour of additive manufacturing is not only design freedom, but also significant time efficiency. This is because the use of 3D parts shortens the overall manufacturing process, since a 3D component replaces several conventional parts. “We are able to respond very quickly and flexibly to new products and to our customers’ changing packaging requirements,” Schindler says. And now a further logical developmental step follows: 3D changes not only the machines and packaging processes, but recently also the warehousing. The key phrase here is “manufacturing on demand”, as electronic design data can be retrieved on demand in seconds anywhere in the world. Schubert Additive Solutions now makes such access to tested and certified print data possible with its new digital part streaming platform. “On request, we can also provide our customers with a 3D printer that they can use to produce their own format parts.”

For manufacturers in the packaging industry, 3D printing on demand is a logical step towards secure, flexible production. Spare parts are available in a fraction of the time previously required and they fit the machine precisely. New product and packaging formats can be tested and realised directly on-site with printed tools. With 3D, companies can effectively tackle the high production flexibility the market now increasingly demands. Especially in the era of e-commerce with its requirements for batch size 1 and immediate production or the fast pace of change of formats in the cosmetics sector, these are important prerequisites for long-term survival in the market.

All it takes is a 3D printer and the internet

In principle, anyone wishing to benefit from the part streaming platform only needs a standard 3D printer and internet access. “This is enough to be able to use the web-based, easy-to-use software,” assures Marcus Schindler. “One of the most secure data connections between printers in the company network and our platform is our GS.Gate industrial gateway.” The industrial gateway has two separate digital areas. One runs the customer software. The other includes a firewall and remote access functionality. With this two-part configuration, GS.Gate offers strong protection against attacks from the network. “For customers who want to exploit the full potential of 3D printing, we also offer expert advice,” continues Marcus Schindler. This allows the identification of parts in production that are suitable for 3D manufacturing and their design all the way through to a certified print job. On the part streaming platform, the digitally stored spare parts, tools and operating resources are then ready for the print command.

The virtual warehouse is fast, reliable and economical. As every part is available immediately and without restrictions, long waiting and delivery times are a thing of the past. The risk associated with transport including possible damage is completely eliminated. The customer’s warehousing is now limited to the printing material, freeing up previously tied-up capital for other investments. “The Schubert platform is absolutely cost-transparent for our customers and offers reproducible quality combined with high data security,” adds the Managing Director.

In addition to simple spare and wear parts, various robot tools can be printed via the part streaming platform. Permanently used equipment and devices also offer many possibilities and an easy introduction to the process. A so-called quick check directly in the customer’s production halls brings to light potential 3D components, highlighting the cost savings. How quickly and easily the parts can be implemented on the platform is categorised in ten steps, ranging from “immediately feasible” through to “entirely new design”. With a dash of creativity and pioneering spirit, manufacturers can also go after their own design solutions with the help of Schubert Additive Solutions.

3D parts in the future also made of metal

The material for 3D printing naturally plays a role. Marcus Schindler explains: “Up until now, we mainly used plastics that are printed using the filament process or – in the case of larger tools – the more complex powder bed process as well. In the future, we also want to tap into the advantages associated with additive manufacturing from materials such as aluminium, stainless steel or titanium. We are currently testing a metal printer.” According to the company, Schubert has now produced more than 100,000 parts using 3D printing, with close to 30,000 units in 2019 alone. The plan is to increase the proportion of additively produced parts used in Schubert machines to five per cent in 2020.

The 3D printing trend is therefore opening up entirely new perspectives with tangible benefits for the packaging industry. Despite all the enthusiasm, every component has to address a key premise: 3D printing needs to be profitable. Schubert agrees. Because the decision in favour of additive manufacturing affects the entire process chain. Marcus Schindler is convinced, however, that 3D technology will trigger further changes: “Our young developers are already thinking in three dimensions. Over the long term, 3D printing will establish itself as an additional manufacturing process in series production and make the packaging industry much more flexible.”

Further information about Schubert Additive Solutions can be found here.