Category Archives: Additive Manufacturing

40 Years of HARBEC: Part 3

1997-2007…The Era of Energy Awareness

Harbec ended the late 90’s and entered the 21st Century with continued growth in their customer base and increased technical expertise. They survived the Y2k threat, economic slumps and other challenges while continuing to grow in size, capability and customer base. As they did, the amount of space dwindled and by 1998 and 1999 they needed to get serious about another expansion. Around this time, they had a wonderful opportunity with a customer to do a very large project in the models department. It would be very profitable but they were going to need more equipment and more space.

As they set out to design the space to fulfill the upcoming needs and give them opportunities for continued growth, Harbec’s president, Bob Bechtold began to investigate alternatives in the areas of energy. He knew that they would need to air-condition the space after dealing with the “Sweat Shop” environment their molding facility became in the hot days of summer. Unfortunately, the price of air conditioning would add a significant overhead cost and make it more difficult to be competitive. They needed an alternative that would be cost effective and insure a comfortable and safe working environment.

Ever since he could remember Bob was captivated by the potentials of renewable energy. He installed his first wind turbine at his own home in 1981. He was also intrigued by geothermal energy and in the early 90’s installed heat pump and geothermal ground loop system to heat and air condition his home. These experiences showed him how this amazing invisible “fuel-less” energy could make a significant difference in the cost of heating and cooling a home so he started to think of ways that he could try to apply similar advantages to the company. He had also become more aware during those days of the increasingly evident negative impact that burning fossil fuels was having on the environment. It made him proud to be able to give his family the comfort and security they needed in an alternative way that was reliable, cost effective and not environmentally damaging.

Armed with what he had learned from his home experiences, he began to investigate how it might benefit Harbec. By the late 1990’s he had developed a plan that he believed would give Harbec the same advantages and pride that he had realized at home. He put together a proposal with the help of a unique energy engineer who was exceptional because he was willing to listen to Bob’s ideas and consider them with an open mind. Most engineers were very conservative, and because Bob’s plan was not being done or they had no experience with it, they would not even try. This person was willing to consider alternatives and then apply his engineering knowledge, to determine if it was plausible.

Eventually Bob put together a proposal and tried to get financing. Bob reflects, “Unfortunately, I made the mistake initially of over emphasizing the environment or ‘green’ aspects and how it would help to improve the future of our children and the planet. After several months of failure I realized that I was inadvertently branding myself as a burnt out hippy or a tree hugger and after being turned down by more than 30 banks between here and Ohio, I decided I needed a new way to ‘sell’ my proposal. After a few months and with the help of numbers I was able to get from the engineers, I presented a new proposal for the same project but only used financial reasons and economic benefits for doing it. This time they listened and took me seriously and the needed expansion of 17,000 feet and our first energy project got funding in 1999 and was completed and operational in 2001.”

Harbec added the needed new space along with an onsite generation (combined heat and power) facility that included the first phase of an energy solution that was destined to grow and change significantly during the next 15 plus years. By pursuing the efficiency opportunities that energy awareness taught them, Harbec was able to realize the economic advantages that Bob had experienced at his home. This also insured that they had a pleasant and comfortable place to work. Furthermore they were able to make a significant improvement in quality in molding. Before this their number one quality issue was moisture in their material, causing assorted dimensional and cosmetic issues. After installing A/C, they reduced and almost eliminated the problem by controlling the moisture in the system’s output.

Along with all these benefits, an unexpected advantage was presented to them. The wind turbine became a differentiator that identified Harbec as a unique company. Bob says, “I never could have intentionally branded the company so effectively if I tried.” As a result, the community has come to know them as the wind turbine company and usually thinks of Harbec as a caring and responsible manufacturing company even if they don’t know exactly what they do.

Initially most of the employees thought that this was just a personal passion or hobby and did not get the idea that it was saving the company a lot of money. Then one-day Harbec’s controller suggested that a good way to help everyone better understand the economic advantages that this energy management system gave Harbec was to convert the savings of energy costs to personal impact that resulted in every employee’s profit sharing. So at the next company meeting he turned the savings for the company into the dollar impact on everyone’s profit sharing check. The employees were amazed.

What started out as a simple way to control energy cost, improve working conditions, help profitability and reduce expenses, grew in unplanned ways. As time passed, the other unspoken side (environmental benefits) of the energy project started to become acceptable to be considered by businesses. It had also been renamed and what used to be called green or renewable was now referred to as ‘sustainable’ and the environmental issues became more acceptable to consider. Today not only is it acceptable, but the majority of the modern world is on its way to an economy that is based on carbon values. Meanwhile, Harbec stands as one of a very small number of manufacturing companies worldwide that have taken responsibility for the carbon that would normally be produced in their manufacturing efforts and, cost effectively, eliminated them.

As this decade drew to a close, a series of new challenges presented themselves The Great Recession, which was the worst economic period since the Great Depression affected Harbec with a down turn in business. Fortunately, they lost no customers during the recessionary period, but the customers they had, greatly reduced their orders. To survive they needed to reduce and economize where ever possible, and so they did.

 

During this period, they were also entering the world of metal additive manufacturing. Initial experiences came from their DTM machine which not only allowed them the ability to grow nylon parts to .005” accuracy but also to produce metal parts. In those days they did this by first growing what was called a ‘green part’ which was a mixture of polymer and metal powders. The resulting shape from the growing process was similar to the consistency of chalk. The green part was carefully removed from the DTM machine and placed in a nitrogen environment kiln along with strategically placed bronze pellets. The kiln heated the combination to the correct temperature where the polymer powder would vaporize. This created microscopic voids between the metal powder and caused the bronze to melt at the same time. The melted bronze then infiltrated the voids by capillary action and the result was a part that was a perfect blend of 60% tool steel and 40% bronze.

 

This new potential was not only interesting for them to use for metal prototype parts, but it intrigued them as a possibility for use in mold making efforts. The thought of mixing the wear ability of tool steel with the conductivity of bronze should have been a perfect mixture for molds. However, each time the metal parts came out they had a slight droop factor that would cause them to be inaccurate and as unusable as mold details. Harbec had tasted the potential of metal additive, now they just needed to wait for the technology to improve, and it did. Meanwhile, Bob was investigating a new technology in Europe called Direct Metal Laser Sintering that was able to grow the metal parts directly and needed no secondary sintering process.

The company that had invented this was EOS and so Harbec set their sights on obtaining this new capability. This was to prove to be difficult, because an American company was working hard to keep it from coming to the USA. They persisted though and as a result they were the first company in the US to receive an EOS DMLS machine, which is still being used today.

Here is the complete 40 years of HARBEC series:

Creating a More Sustainable World in 3D

Do you see your world in 3D…Where the dimensions of economy (profit), environment (planet), and society (people) are equally considered in the realization of your manufactured product? Traditional approaches to manufacturing have relied far too heavily on resource intensive processes that don’t always balance the needs of society with the profit goals of the enterprise or the environmental protection that is required for the earth to maintain a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.

Manufacturing enterprises have become substantially more resource efficient and operationally intelligent in the past Century. Compared to the way Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing can enable, there hasn’t been as dramatic an opportunity for industry to realize transformational shifts in resource utilization, since the invention of the steam engine.

Additive manufacturing (AM) takes advantage of various processes used to make three-dimensional objects in which successive layers of materials are laid down under computer control. The objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. AM technologies and processes are now used in a wide-range of industries and to design, engineer, and manufacture higher-performance products. AM technologies and approaches include stereolighography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

Recent advances in topology optimization can, when blended with AM, provide the means for producing a new generation of engineered parts and products. A few  years ago, AM and 3D printing were widely viewed as prototype-exclusive tools due to their relative high cost, limited material and finishing capabilities.

Definition:
TOPOLOGY:  the way in which consistent parts are interrelated or arranged.

Today, AM and 3D printing tools and equipment can, when integrated with software for topology optimization, revolutionize the way in which products are designed, prototyped, and manufactured. AM and 3D printing provide unparalleled opportunities and freedom to product designers. AM and 3D printing are near a convergence point in assimilating a suite of software, materials, techniques, and finishing options that can springboard this novel technology into the forefront of sustainable product design and manufacturing.

As AM and 3D printing integrate science and technology into superior manufacturing capabilities, the only limiting factor will be our imagination. AM and 3D printing allow for the design, development, and manufacturing of more complex shapes and topographies which result in customized products at faster manufacturing cycle times.

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The flexible design and production freedom of AM can enable sustainable design and manufacture of products. AM offers a new way to achieve competitive advantages in product design and manufacturing by addressing:

  • Design freedom – Due to the wide-ranging potential of AM technologies, design opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination. Traditional manufacturing methods play a large role in the range of options that can be achieved for product designers. In the old world of manufacturing, equipment and machines drove design and product realization based upon the capabilities of the manufacturing equipment. In contrast, the AM world liberates design and provides the means to manufacture parts that would never have been conceivable (at least cost-effectively) with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Part optimization – AM can, when aligned with the right software, design tools, and material selections, allow designers to achieve optimum part design and performance according to characteristics and requirements that they establish. If a designer wants to optimize their part for materials utilization, production speed, or a variety of other factors related to topology, they can now do so. The latest capabilities of AM and 3D printing provide designers with tools and capabilities that can result in higher performance parts that use less material, energy, and natural resources to develop, manufacture, and use.
  • Materials availability and scarcity – As a manufacturing process, AM only uses the material(s) necessary to realize the part geometry, scale, and size specified by digital design files. Because AM processes grow a shape by depositing layer upon layer of material, this approach is significantly less material intensive than other manufacturing approaches. An example would be the design and development of an injection mold using AM (growing the injection mold with only the right amount of material necessary) versus traditional methods of CNC machining (extracting material from a large block).
  • Process and energy efficiency – When used as an integrated component of a “total manufacturing solution,” AM can be instrumental in reducing total energy consumption per part. For example, the potential of AM can allow for the development of custom injection molds/tools that more efficiently direct water or other forms of cooling to the mold, therefore reducing the time it takes to injection mold and cool a part. This achieves lower total energy for injection molders, and in addition, faster cycle times. AM can be a stand-alone manufacturing process/tool, or strategically included into a total manufacturing solution that helps manufacturers deliver high quality and performance products at every stage of the product life-cycle: design, prototype, tool making, production, and so on.
  • De-materialization of products –AM offers potential to redesign existing or new parts that perform the same or better function, and which use less material. AM parts can be designed to be lighter weight, stronger, and with greater utility than parts manufactured from other processes. As such, AM parts are becoming a preferred solution for the medical device, transportation, aerospace, and defense industries as an opportunity to integrate stronger, lighter, and longer-lasting parts into their products. These industries are attracted by many benefits of AM, however the option to dematerialize a part can have dramatic impact on total product weight, energy use, performance and longevity. For example, in the aerospace industry, companies like GE, Boeing, Airbus, and Lockheed Martin seek to reduce the weight of aircraft to achieve fuel savings, higher performance (faster aircraft), lower weight and more space. The result is a next generation of aircraft that can carry more people and cargo, longer distances, at faster speed, while using less fuel, materials, and resources.
  • Speed-to-market – With AM you can produce a part in hours, not the days or even weeks that may be required with other manufacturing methods. As a result, AM has become the process of choice for many design companies who want quick turn-around on precision prototypes at reasonable cost. In the consumer product sector, the life-cycle of many products is becoming shorter and shorter, in part because of ongoing advances in electronics and technology which make products obsolete in 18-to-24 month business cycles. As a result, many consumer product companies want a more flexible manufacturing opportunity, which balances speed-to-market with shorter-run manufacturing cycles. AM provides this kind of opportunity to cost-effectively bring new products to market quickly, and also enable a manufacturing volume that aligns with the fickleness of the marketplace.

AM delivers the means for designers, manufacturers, and society to visualize, advance, and accelerate the realization of manufactured products across three dimensions (people, planet, and profit). As shown in the visual, the opportunity and scale of sustainability potential and impacts is magnified as AM and 3D printing are used from the onset, and across the product development life-cycle.

 

Do you see your world in 3D

 

Ultimately, the use of AM results in competitive advantages related to operational efficiency (i.e., achieving lower cost of manufactured goods) and development of products that achieve a differentiated and sustainable product performance advantage (i.e., products that are stronger, faster, lighter, use less energy, use less materials, etc.). Finally, the unique capabilities of AM can support a circular economy, one which is restorative, less depletive, and leverages the elegant capabilities of AM to support or enable sustainable design, sustainable manufacturing, sustainable product realization, and product remanufacturing.