As a part of its recent expansion, Denison Industries is rolling out new 3D printing technology that will add efficiencies and cost reduction to its aluminum casting. The manufacturer offered tours and hands-on demonstrations of the equipment to area high school students Friday as part of its ribbon cutting ceremony for the new expansion.
The company’s new ExOne S-Max 3D printer will be used to make the molds that are used in the company’s casting of aluminum parts and components. Before the machine was put into operation, these molds were mostly created by hand, company representatives said.
“We really feel this will separate ourselves from the current industry,” Bryan Petty, director of projects and process improvement, said. “What we really wanted to do is attract those customers like the department of defense, aerospace and defense and ensure we provide them a good service.”
Petty said the new machinery takes designs from digital files and recreates them using layered, bonded sand. Through thin layers, some only a few grains thick, the machine can print a mold over the course of 24 hours with about two inches laid each hour.
These molds can then be stacked together to create the full mold of a part. Workers then take the mold and fill it with molten aluminum in order to cast the part.
The true benefit of the new equipment will come in fine tuning and tooling the projects, Petty said. Under normal projects, Denison Industries would be required to cast a piece multiple times as they tried to get exact dimensions for the item. This often required back-and-forth between the manufacturer and the client that could take upward of 18 months to complete.
With the new machinery, the same project could be completed within a third of that time, with recasts taking less than a day. Petty said the 3D printer also allows the company to start creating prototypes, with two companies already contracting for the experimental work.
Petty said the new machinery would not be used for its existing jobs, but instead will be used to market to new clients that need a quick turn around, including defense contracts. The tooling costs, which can reach $1 million in some projects, will also be reduced, making Denison Industries competitive for these contracts.
Petty declined to comment on the cost of the new machinery, but said Denison Industries expects a two and a half year return on the investment.
Engineers with the foundry have spent the last two weeks working with the machine to prepare it for full-scale operations, Petty said. The room used to house the new 3D printer is one of two identical rooms that make up the expansion. In time, Petty said the second room will become a mirror of the existing printing room, but is currently set up for 3D scanning.
As part of the demonstrations, Petty allowed the students studying advanced manufacturing to break into a sand mold and retrieve models and small trinkets that were made using the new machinery. Petty said he hopes that the new machinery will be able to help dissolve lingering stereotypes of manufacturing as a low-pay, dirty job when advanced manufacturing is actually a very skilled, high-tech industry.
“I really want them to take away that manufacturing is awesome,” Petty said.
Dakota Eachen was among the students in attendance Friday. Eachen, a high school junior, said he was considering following in the steps of his grandfather and father, who both have worked in area industries.
“It gives me a chance to see what I might be doing for a living,” Eachen said. “This has been a thing that has been in my family for years.”