3d printers

North American Lighting Accelerates Assembly Line Production with MakerBot 3D Printers

MakerBot 3D printing technology has been exploited by North American Lighting (NAL) to additively manufacture jigs, fixtures and tools within its automotive lighting assembly line.

North American lighting, a Koito Group Companyhas been manufacturing automotive lighting systems for automakers since 1983. The company has eight facilities in the United States and provides advanced lighting technology, engineering design expertise and state-of-the-art production capabilities.

NAL works with some of the largest automotive OEMs in America like Ford and GMC, so speed and accuracy are key. Assembly production tools are essential to keep production running smoothly. If a part breaks, this may result in extended delivery times and additional costs.

Production Engineering Technician Joey Carpenter started using 3D printing to integrate tooling production in-house and reduce potential disruptions. He was new to 3D printing when he discovered the MakerBot METHOD X series in early 2022. Carpenter has since become the company’s resident expert.

Prior to adopting additive manufacturing, Carpenter and his team relied on outside vendors to design, produce and return the necessary parts. Receiving a new part took several weeks, which meant that orders were often late, forcing the company to readjust its lead times.

“Now with METHOD X in-house, the wait time is minimal,” Carpenter said. “In 12 hours, we have what we need to build a tool at arm’s length. Not only does this significantly reduce our wait times, but we also see a massive reduction in costs. The cost of 3D printing a nylon carbon fiber part is one-third the price of what we were paying for outsourced aluminum parts. »

“Since we started 3D printing, our overhead has halved because we don’t have to stock excess parts,” Carpenter continued. “We have reduced the stock of parts by 50%. Now all of our tool designs are digital, making it easier and faster for us to access them, iterate on them, and print them as needed. Instead of waiting weeks, we can turn parts into five days from design to assembly.

At the company’s Flora factory, robots use around 200 tools at arm’s length per year. Bringing tooling production in-house allows the team to significantly reduce costs while saving time. While Carpenter primarily prints end-of-arm tool parts, he has also found other applications to use METHOD X for.

NAL’s assembly and lighting team also uses METHOD X in the Flora facility to produce nesting blocks for the assembly line. Blocks go into tooling on the assembly line and hold parts in place while the machine works on them.

“There would be a four- to six-week delay before getting a part back, and the cost would be quite high.” said Dee Jay Griffith, Manufacturing Engineering Technician at NAL. “With Method X we are able to print a complete nest for less than 10% of the cost and we can do it faster.”

Primarily printed in carbon fiber and PolyMax PC, the nesting blocks are lightweight and durable. Since printing the items a few months ago, Griffith has yet to see any wear and tear on them. He is also experimenting with different materials and has now printed camera mounts, grease fittings, leak test gaskets and more.

Speaking of the METHOD X, Griffith added: “We’ve already paid for 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 saved by doing it ourselves instead of waiting for a store to come and do it.

“I work for a multi-billion dollar company and can afford any 3D printer, but we currently have five MakerBots in-house and there’s a reason for that,” Carpenter concluded.

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