When engineer Levi Kuta brought a 3D printer into Alta Injection Molding, he knew his team would use it to verify the accuracy and integrity of their own 3D designs. What he didn’t anticipate was the popularity of 3D prints among his customers and the resulting shift in the Canadian company’s business model.
Levi is Manager of Engineering and Design for Alta Injection Molding (AIM), which has been serving the manufacturing sector in western Canada for 30 years. Their core competencies range from design to prototyping to full production, including packaging and distribution to the marketplace.
With their in-house Stratasys 3D printer, supported by Javelin Technologies, AIM’s designers can quickly produce samples to test the fit and finish of their work. AIM is well known for quick turnaround and reducing time to market; it achieves that productivity, along with associated cost savings, by eliminating key steps between prototype and final product.
“Our process from design to production seems linear, but it’s really more circular,” Levi says. “You have to test, then rotate back to tweak designs. Having 3D prints in house reduces that rotation time tremendously. All processes are shortened, so we’re more efficient.”
“Having 3D prints in house reduces design to production time tremendously. All processes are shortened, so we’re more efficient.”
The spin-off benefits to customers are impressive. When customers have a true likeness of their end part or product – one that looks and behaves as the end product will – marketing is far easier than just with technical drawings.
“They can go out and start marketing to their supporters and customers using a 3D-printed piece, allowing them to get pre-sales before they even hit production,” Levi says. “They can generate investment and equity far earlier in the process.”
Levi tells stories of cost savings that would be considered significant for any sized business. In one example, a customer working in the oil and gas sector paid about $150 for a 3D printed model of a case designed to enclose a circuit board, compared to paying about $30,000 for molding to have the same part developed in a machine shop.
“When they tested the 3D printed part, they discovered a flaw in the design,” Levi explains. “The design didn’t match the circuit board. With a steel part, that mistake would have been more than $30,000, instead of a few hundred dollars.”
Entering new markets
AIM produces parts for manufacturers in aerospace, military, oil and gas, product packaging, and health care. Offerings to customers have expanded well beyond earlier established markets in injection molding. Even early on, 3D printing jobs generated about $50,000 a year in direct revenue, but Levi says the cost savings were probably 10 times that.
“In the beginning, we used 3D prints internally as an extra level of verification before cutting steel,” he says. “Seeing and testing a 3D model made us that much more confident in our work. As the quality of our prints became better and better, we started doing client projects we could never have touched before.”
Educating new customers about 3D printing
Like others working at the leading edge of 3D design and 3D printing, Levi has seen a change in the way he markets his services to customers.
“Five years ago, you had to market 3D printing by explaining how it works and what it can do,” Levi says. “Today, because people think they can do it themselves from their desktop, I have to explain the capabilities of our machine, how we are trained in the processes and the materials available, and how we take pride in our finished end products. Our work on this printer is a step above.”
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To learn more about Alta Injection Molding’s visit their online home at www.altainj.com.
Results from investing in a 3D Printer:
- Engineering team members have even more confidence in the accuracy, suitability, and real-life durability of their 3D designs
- Improved overall process from idea to production (lower costs, less development time, faster approvals, fewer errors, less rework)
- Increased revenue for AIM, with $50,000 in annual revenue attributed directly to 3D printing expertise and services (even greater impact on bottom line due to cost savings realized through in-house 3D printing capabilities)
- New hires at AIM, including engineering staff and printer operators
- Enhanced reputation for AIM’s people and processes, including expanded business opportunities (new customers in new markets)
Using Javelin for support
Besides ongoing assistance with material selection, as well as cleaning and maintenance advice, Javelin Technologies supports AIM with technical assistance. Levi points to one recent experience with Javelin that he says was fantastic.
“They issued a P.O. for the service the same day I called,” he reports. “And I have to give them credit for finding a cost-effective service solution.”
“In the beginning, we used 3D prints internally as an extra level of verification before cutting steel. Seeing and testing a 3D model made us that much more confident in our work. As the quality of our prints became better and better, we started doing client projects we could never have touched before.”
— Levi Kuta, Manager of Engineering and Design for Alta Injection Molding (AIM)