Markforged 3D Printers Are Saving Auto Manufacturer Time & Money

Jim Vinoski – Contributor Manufacturing – I write about all facets of manufacturing.

The ongoing hype about 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM) moving into true manufacturing is almost entirely focused on the production of finished goods. But that’s just one measure of the capabilities of AM, which shows increasing promise in a number of areas of manufacturing. One of those areas is tooling – the molds, dies, jigs, cutting tools, and so forth that manufacturers use to produce the various components that make up their finished products.

Today, Markforged, Inc., a metal and carbon fiber 3-D printer producer based in Watertown, Massachusetts, issued a case study showing a real-world example of the true potential of 3-D printing technologies. One of their customers is automotive manufacturer Dunlop Systems and Components (Dunlop), based in Coventry, UK, which specializes in vehicle suspension systems. Until recently Dunlop had primarily outsourced the production of its tooling. Dunlop engineers then saw a Markforged Onyx desktop printer in action last year and realized they could use it to make their own tooling.

Dunlop purchased a Mark Two printer and began experimenting. Their results were remarkable. The printer — with its continuous carbon fiber reinforcement material — was able to quickly deliver strong and lightweight tooling that performed as well as the tooling it replaced. This saved the company weeks over the lead times they’d previously experienced with their outsourced tooling partners. What’s more, the internally -produced tooling costs thousands of dollars less per run than that purchased outside. The team responsible for bringing in the Markforged carbon fiber printer has brought an increase in available tools across the company, stating that engineers have “seen more tooling in the last six months than in the last five years.”

According to Mark Statham, Production and Engineering Manager at Dunlop, “There were parts we wouldn’t have even thought about doing and there were parts that we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do.” This highlights further successes they’ve seen with their Onyx and Mark Two printers.

These factors are increasingly important for Dunlop. The company recently won a contract with a major automotive company to provide systems for a new electric vehicle it’s launching. Product development for major initiatives like this require multiple changes to the components being made, as designs are optimized and finalized. This means frequent changes to the tooling occur as well. The savings in time and money Dunlop has proved in their initial testing will multiply by many times as the company works on this new business opportunity.