Case Studies: The Printed Part Advantage
December 1, 2009
Throughout its history, efficiency and innovation have driven Ioxus Inc. (Oneonta, NY). Ioxus develops, manufactures and distributes ultracapacitor technologies for a wide range of energy storage markets. Its innovative products extend the charge time and reduce the use of batteries for electronics, hybrid vehicles, wind farms and other green technologies. Ioxus’ parent company, Custom Electronics Inc. (CEI), has been manufacturing high-voltage capacitors since 1964.
To maintain its position at the forefront of ultracapacitor technology, Ioxus and CEI employ multiple designers and invest significant time and money into the research and development of new products.
CEI began to investigate 3-D printing as a way to cut the cost and turnaround times for tools and fixtures they were producing through outside machine shops. They also were looking for a way to produce housings and molds for prototypes.
After researching a variety of options, CEI purchased a Dimension 3-D printer. Designed to create precise 3-D models, Dimension 3-D printers convert computer-aided design (CAD) files into durable models, right from a workstation or network.
How It WorksModels are built from the bottom up, one layer at a time, with tough, durable (ABS) plastic. STL files are imported into Catalyst EX software, which automatically slices and orients the parts, creating any necessary support structures. The software automatically plots a precise deposition path for the printer to follow. ABS plastic, in filament form within auto-loading cartridges, is fed into an extrusion head, heated to a semi-liquid state and accurately deposited in layers as fine as 0.007-inch thick.
Recharging Design and ManufacturingThe impact of the 3-D printer has been dramatic. Ioxus estimates that its small shop has saved more than $100,000 in machining and prototyping after three years of use.
“Parts that used to take us six weeks at the machine shop and cost $500 to $1,500 each now turn around in hours for less than $20,” says Ioxus Chief Operating Officer Chad Hall. “Recently, we built a high-voltage capacitor housing in less than two days with the Dimension 3-D printer at a cost of just $250. In the past, that same piece would have taken 14 weeks to machine at a cost of $12,500.”
CEI has used the 3-D printer extensively to create nesting jigs and fixtures for assembly and soldering processes. “We thread on holding mechanisms and glue sheets of metal where needed to prevent damage during soldering,” says Hall.
In addition, Ioxus has used the Dimension 3-D printer for marketing to potential clients. “We’ve printed models of our revolutionary design ideas in the Dimension 3-D printer and used them to attract customers and investors,” says Hall. “It’s an incredibly powerful way to communicate the possibilities in an industry that requires a high degree of specialization.”