A Chocolate Factory Finds a Sweet Solution with 3D Printing to Replace Machine Parts

A Chocolate Factory Finds a Sweet Solution with 3D Printing to Replace Machine Parts

If a metal component in a packing machine breaks several times a year during the high-speed process, could it be replaced by a durable 3D print that could be supplied faster? Here is an interview with 3D print expert Carl van de Rijzen of Visual First in the Netherlands, who successfully investigated this possibility at The Chocolate Factory in Rotterdam. Stratasys Nylon 12CF, a new material, withstood the test and opens up the possibility of more applications in the manufacturing industry.

Metal components in a packing machine suffer enormous wear and tear and have to be replaced several times a year. Carl van de Rijzen of Visual First found the solution to this problem. Visual First specializes in creating 3D models and impressions and is a pioneer in 3D printing. For example, it is working with DSV on the 3D Printing Exploration Lab to see how they can improve the 3D printing process with their logistics services. This work is being carried out in collaboration with Stratasys, a major player in the 3D print market. With the aid of this network and the necessary knowledge, and by just “getting on with it”, Visual First found the solution for those expensive spare parts.

What exactly did The Chocolate Factory need?

“The Chocolate Factory makes a range of chocolate products, including Johnny Doodle chocolate bars, with their familiar creative packaging. Chocolate bars are packaged by machine. As soon as the last wrapper has gone on, a hook-shaped metal part lifts the bars and moves them to the next stage on the conveyor belt.

Due to the wide variety of products, the machine has to be adjusted regularly. If bars are fed in incorrectly, the particular component can become stuck and buckle. Replacing this component and repairing the damage was expensive and took quite some time. The question was therefore whether it was feasible to print this component in 3D and thereby save on material costs, downtime and damage to the machine.”

How did you investigate this?

“Actually by getting straight down to work. A year ago we starting producing the component digitally by means of reverse engineering, i.e. creating a digital 3D model of an existing part. This was an older machine, of which there were no 3D models. After we had modelled the component, we were able to use that 3D model to produce test prints on our Leapfrog 3D printer. The first two tests were with ColorFabb materials XT and HT, strong, sturdy plastics. They are very suitable for other applications, but for this machine there was too much flexibility in the material and too little rigidity. And that rigidity is exactly what is needed to replace metal.

In our search for a more rigid material we came into contact with Stratasys through our collaboration with DSV’s 3D Printing Exploration Lab. They gave us advice on the 3D model and were willing to make prototypes of different materials. They offered their new Nylon 12CF material, a thermoplastic filled with carbon fibers. Stratasys sent us a print of the component which they arranged to be made at their site in Germany. When I took it to the factory everyone was immediately enthusiastic, even before it was in the machine. The material feels incredibly hard and rigid; it’s impossible to bend it. It withstood a test with four pallets of chocolate bars without any problem.”

Does this solution deliver the expected saving?

“Certainly, because there’s no longer any damage to the machine, the costs of the component are lower and it has to be reordered less frequently. With this solution we achieve a 60% saving on the component alone because, unlike metal spare parts, a 3D print causes no damage to the machine if it breaks. The machine downtime is also shorter because the component is now supplied within a week, whereas previously it took a month. That lead time can of course be reduced even further, down to just a few hours, if a 3D printer is available on site.”

What does this 3D printing application mean for the future?

“The fact that it works naturally means that everyone who regularly has to replace components has an opportunity to save costs and time. We want to work with DSV and Stratasys in the future to optimize the supply of the prints, so a company can have peace of mind and build up stocks of components or can print a spare part on demand.

The Chocolate Factory is convinced and wants to use more 3D printed spare parts wherever possible in the production process. And not only spare parts, but also tools for operations that take a lot of time. These could include tools to simplify the packing of customized products. 3D printing is also suitable for making a prototype of a casting mold. The Chocolate Factory uses such a prototype to test acceptance of its products. The prototype is currently made of plastic and producing it is an expensive and time-consuming process. A 3D print can be produced and supplied in a few days and is much cheaper. The possibilities of this technology are enormous.”

“At Stratasys they also see a great future in 3D printed production parts and spare parts for industrial machinery in general and especially for packaging machines”, according to Nadav Sella, head of the company’s Emerging Solutions business unit: “Those machines require relatively high customizations due to the large variety of products that are packaged. In many cases, the use of 3D printing can not only save time and cost in the manufacturing process of those machines but can also make them more efficient by reducing weight, simplifying design and increasing functionality.”

More information on Visual First can be found at www.visualfirst.nl and carl.vande.rijzen@visualfirst.nl.
More information on Stratasys and Nylon 12CF can be found at www.stratasys.com
Information on DSV can be found at www.dsv.com and the 3D Printing Exploration Lab can be contacted at erik.vanwunnik@dsv.com