Engineering, Equipment & Technology

Keech using 3D printing to halve product development time

Keech’s new 3D printing capability enables its product development team to make models of custom components, using feedback collected directly from customers.

“The goal is to precisely meet the customer’s requirements first time, every time,” said Dr Bala Hebbar, general manager – innovation and quality at Keech.

The use of 3D printing allows Keech to more quickly test new approaches to challenges like improving the method of attaching a component or decreasing component weight.

“What would take us 180 days to develop in the past can now be done in 90 days, thanks to our new streamlined system, so we’ve essentially cut the development time in half,” Bala said.

“Previously, we would have had to make a 300kg steel casting of a component and we still wouldn’t know how well it would fit in with the other components in a machine until it was installed on-site.

“Now, with our 3D printing capability, we can get a much better feel for a product’s compatibility using a scaled down version. We are able to tell right away if it will work without having to go through the huge expense and time consuming process of making a full size casting.”

The new development process was created partly in response to demand from the mining industry, where componentry can play a major role in production efficiency.

“During the mining boom period, the primary concern for mine operators was getting the components they needed as quickly as possible. With ore prices falling, companies are now more focused on efficiency gains, increasing productivity and reducing downtime. Everyone is looking for a smart idea that will keep their machines running longer,” Bala said.

The new streamlined process of information gathering and 3D printing has not come at the expense of rigorous testing – although it’s faster, the process is now more detailed.

“Where once we had five or six different steps in our development process, we now have 15 steps. The goal is to produce the right product first time, so we conduct even more validation and prototype testing,” Bala said.

The knowledge the Keech development team gains through the use of 3D printing further expedites the process of developing new components.

“We can see what has worked in the past so we can compare and benchmark against what we are currently doing,” Bala said. “This design inventory helps with the flow of imagination within our engineering team, enabling them to develop better products.”

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