Since 1983, North American Lighting (NAL), a Koito Group Company, has been producing automotive lighting systems for vehicle manufacturers. NAL now has decided to accelerate the assembly line production with MakerBot Method X 3D printers.
NAL has eight facilities across the United States and offers advanced lighting technology, engineering design expertise, and cutting-edge production capabilities.
Speed and precision are critical for a manufacturer like NAL, which works with some of America’s largest automotive OEMs like Ford and GMC. As a result, assembly production tools are critical to ensuring that production runs smoothly. If a part fails, it may result in longer lead times and higher costs.
NAL Accelerates Production with MakerBot Method X
Joey Carpenter, a production engineering technician, started using 3D printing to bring tooling production in-house and reduce disruptions. Carpenter was new to 3D printing when the MakerBot METHOD X series was introduced to him in early 2022. Carpenter has since become the resident expert, handling robotic builds and cycling in new end of arm tools for production runs on new launches.
Prior to production with MakerBot Method X 3D printers, Carpenter and his team relied on third-party vendors to design, manufacture, and return parts. A new part could take several weeks to arrive. This was less than ideal because orders were frequently late, forcing them to reschedule.
“Now with a MakerBot METHOD X in-house, there is minimal wait time. In 12 hours, we have what we need to build an end of arm tool. Not only does this drastically reduce our wait times, but we are also seeing a massive cost reduction. The cost to 3D print a part in nylon carbon fibre is one-third the price of what we were paying for outsourced aluminium parts.”– Joey Carpenter, production engineering technician, North American Lighting
Carpenter continued, “In addition, since we started 3D printing, our overhead costs decreased by half because we don’t have to stock up on excess parts. We have reduced part inventory by 50%. Now all of our tool designs are digital so they’re easier and quicker for us to access, iterate, and print as we need. Instead of waiting weeks, we can turn parts around in five days, from design to assembly.”
Leveraging Method X’s Versatility
In the factory, the robots use approximately 200 in-house built end of arm tools per year. Bringing tooling production in-house allows the team to significantly reduce costs while saving significant time.
NAL also used mock-ups and prototypes developed in-house for things like water fittings to prepare for the future. We were able to create a carbon fibre prototype in-house in three days instead of outsourcing the work and waiting up to a month for the results.
“We’re finding that it’s very easy to replace aluminium with carbon fiber parts. With weight reduction and durability, carbon fibre is comparable to aluminium,” Carpenter noted. “With the LABS extruder, MakerBot and Jabil materials offered on the METHOD X, the tolerances and the consistency of your prints are far better than you can imagine.”
The NAL Assembly and Lighting team also started using the printer to create nest blocks for the assembly line. The nest blocks are used to hold parts in place while the machine works on them. They are installed in the tooling on the assembly line.
“There would be a four-to-six-week lead time before getting a part back. And the cost would be pretty high— With METHOD X, we’re able to print a full nest for less than 10% of the cost and we’re able to do that faster.”– Dee Jay Griffith, manufacturing engineering technician, North American Lighting
Griffith added, “The METHOD X and 3D printing helped my workflow by enabling faster lead times and cost savings that comes with being able to print my own things. We’re now able to accomplish what we need to on these assembly lines faster and without having to rely on vendors’ timelines.”
The nest blocks are lightweight and durable because they are made primarily of carbon fibre and PolyMax™ PC. Griffith hasn’t seen any wear on them since he printed them months ago. He is also experimenting with various materials, constantly discovering new things to print. Camera mounts, grease tips, leak test seals, and other items are examples.
“We’ve already ROI’d this machine and we’ve only had it for a few months. Just in the savings of what we’ve already printed, not to mention the time we’ve saved doing it ourselves as opposed to waiting for a shop to come in to get it done,” said Griffith.
“I work for a multi-billion dollar company and can afford any 3D printer out there but yet we have five MakerBots in house right now and there’s a reason for that,” Carpenter concluded.
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