3D printers for home appliances – the NIDEC case history
3D printers for home appliances – NIDEC
Founded in 1973 by Shigenobu Nagamori, current board’s chairman, president and CEO, the Nidec Group is one of the leading electric engine’s manufacturer. The business unit Nidec Sole Motor Corporation srl (NSMC), based in Italy (Pordenone), is the branch within the group that designs, manufactures and distributes engines for household appliances such as washing machines, dryers and dishwashers.
Constantly engaged in R&D for engines with an high technological innovation features, regarding in particular the improvement of energy performances and noise reduction, the company pays great attention to the use of environmentally friendly materials and to the development of recyclable products. The research and development department is located in Pordenone; manufacturing facilities are in Italy, Hungary, Romania and China.
A crucial moment for the company is the phase of prototype testing, whose results give way to the production or lead to make changes in the project; at this stage it is very important to reduce the time that passes between the design of a product and the realization of the prototype to be tested. It is in this phase that 3D printing is proving to be a valuable ally. The research and development of Nidec is divided by product applications: motors for washing machines, dishwashers and dryers; each platform has a dedicated team of designers.
The 3D Printing technology as a precious ally in prototyping
To tell us when and how 3D printing has entered the company is Alberto Grava, platform manager for dryers engines and new applications. With his team he follow projects starting from the specific requirements defined by the customer. Not only with respect to the house appliances so-called “white” – as washing machines, dishwasher and dryer – but also for new applications such as motors for cooker hoods or home heating. It is precisely Grava to confirm why the ‘time’ factor plays a key role in Nidec.
“The market competition has always required the development of new solutions in very short times; historically, rapid prototyping has therefore been a need for the creation of prototypes and validation of solutions“.
Within Nidec there is a specific workshop dedicated to the realization of prototypes for development purposes. The matter they had to face was about the lacking of the necessary expertise to manufacture prototypes of plastic parts internally, which was then entrusted to external providers. The willingness to shorten the time and “rake” specific expertise on the implementation of plastic components led to explore the potential of 3D printing.
The next step was the contact with 3DZ, authorized italian reseller of 3D Systems and specifically with Gianfranco Caufin, one of the founders of the company and current co-owner of the branch of Treviso.
“The Nidec’s goal was to be able to provide autonomously to the prototypes printing and then to perform on them the functional tests – as Caufin confirms – and this specific need has triggered to a confrontation between the company and 3DZ in order to figure out what would have been the right technology and printer that best suits their needs”.
Nidec has provided to 3DZ the CAD projects related to some of its components, which 3DZ proceeded on different printers: the prototypes were then sent back to the company in order to let them choose the most appropriate solution to meet their requirements.
The choose was then on the ProJet 3510HD by 3D Systems a 3D printer that, as Alberto Grava explains, “was the best both on the technical and economical side“.
This is a 3D printer that manufactures precise and durable plastic parts ideal for functional test, aesthetic evaluation and design, rapid manufacturing, rapid tooling and more. The printer, based on Multi Jet Printing technology, produces partes with maximum dimensions of 298x185x203 mm, a maximum resolution of 750x750x790 dpi and a layer thickness up to 32 microns.
After the purchase, 3DZ proceeded with the installation, testing and calibration of the printer, and started the technical training on Nidec’s staff. The focus was on the general use of the machine and on the post-processing operations to be carried on the printed objects.
What is the current use of the printer, in terms of products and frequency?
Alberto Grava explains:
“The printer application areas are extremely varied, ranging from the creation of the impeller-willed groups for hydraulic analysis of dishwasher pumps and blowers for HVAC to create mockup for clearance checks, conceptual or process, to the creation of particular for functional prototypes such as connectors and holders”.
When it comes to advantages, there are no doubt on the positive effect that the printer’s entry had on reducing manufacturing times.
“Thanks to 3D printing we reduced our lead times by more than five times and now we can quickly “touch” the designer’s idea” continues Grava. “As for the more complex models, we print a single solution at time, we test it and then launch the printing of the optimized detail resulted from the performance testing process. This is greatly reducing the amount of tests to be performed.
Before, in fact, since we had not a printer and we had to turn to external suppliers, we were asking them few variations of the same part but not always the target was achieved on the first loop, thus requiring a new order and new process validation”.
“In terms of cost of the single part (raw material and finishing effort) we did not notice an obvious economic advantage, butthe benefits in terms of time, autonomy and control of the product, while being hardly measurable, are evident. In fact, for the accuracy, the overall expenditure for prototyping of plastic parts increased, but, on the other hand, with a general increase of the number of prototypes done. Having the technology of 3D printing at home, now we feel “less limited” and, in a kind of virtuous circle, some ideas that previously would not be created have their practical realization, just because now “is easier”.
Their satisfaction is clear, and that’s why Nidec already assumed an increasing usage of the printer and of the 3D printing technology. As Grava confirms:
“We will surely increase the usage of 3D printing and we will extend it to other business purposes, such as the realization of jigs for fixing to the dimensional reliefs or for the verification of line equipment”.
What does Nidec expect from 3D printing for household applications?
“3D printing of professional-grade plastic parts will take more and more ground in the companies, aided by the decreasing investment needed to get their print quality in high definition. I expect an increase in mechanical performances of plastic 3D printing materials and a lower investment for 3D printing of metallic materials”.