Fender Cut Prototyping Costs in Half with a Stratasys 3D Printer

Article by Rod Mackay updated August 20, 2015


Fender Musical Instruments Corporation designs and manufactures stringed instruments and amplifiers, such as solid-body electric guitars, including the Stratocaster and the Telecaster.

The company makes acoustic guitars, electric basses, mandolins, banjos and violins, as well as guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, and public address equipment. Avril Lavigne, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and Sting are among the artists known for using Fender equipment.

While engineers focus on how instruments should sound, a group of industrial designers at Fender work on how they will look. Design is an extremely important element of Fender’s business. The company maintains its own in-house design center, complete with a model shop to explore new concepts, create designs, prototype and test. Shawn Greene, senior industrial designer for Fender, plays a key role in that effort.

“We’re dealing with artists and often professional musicians, so all of our instruments and equipment need to look great as well as sound great,” says Greene. “Our design group works closely with marketing to explore different colors, graphics and the types of metal and plastic parts used. Before we spend anything on a product, we do a lot of concept work and research to make sure it’s the right fit and product.”

Rising Volume, and the need to cut prototyping costs cause Fender to bring Rapid Prototyping in-house

3D rapid prototyping has been a part of Fender’s design process for years, and until recently the company outsourced this work to service bureaus. However, Greene and his team were frustrated by the time and expense of outsourcing. It often took one to two weeks to get a “rapid” prototype back, a time lapse that really slowed down projects; Fender’s volume had grown to a point where Greene recommended that the company bring rapid prototyping technology in-house.

Fender Cut Prototyping Costs by 3D Printing in-house

Outsourcing rapid prototyping on parts like this to a service bureau was expensive and time-consuming

“I calculated the cost of outsourcing prototypes for one year and compared it with the cost of bringing the function in-house. Even after factoring in the cost of the equipment and materials as well as staff time, I still concluded that we could significantly reduce our costs by doing it ourselves,”

— Shawn Greene, Fender

Greene was tasked with evaluating 3D printing system vendors. “Detail was the most important criteria for us,” recalls Greene. “The nature of our work requires very tight detail. Ease of use was #2, and cost was #3. We also needed to make sure the system could handle a variety of part sizes and materials, because our parts range from the size of a dime up to a full guitar body.”

Service Bureaus Recommend Stratasys as the Best Choice for 3D Printers

Greene consulted with the service bureaus Fender had used for suggestions on 3D printer vendors. The most common recommendation by far was Stratasys. “We were familiar with the equipment our service bureaus were using and had learned to distinguish parts made on certain printers,” he says. “There was one brand of printer that produced what we called ‘fuzzy parts’ because the finish was so raw – so we dismissed that vendor right off the bat. On the other hand, we’d always been happiest with parts from Stratasys printers.”

Greene ultimately chose a Stratasys Objet350 Connex 3D Printer. Built on Objet’s advanced Connex platform, this machine delivers the market’s most productive, flexible and high quality way to compress the product design-to-manufacturing cycle. PolyJet Photopolymer jetting
technology found in the Connex range enables horizontal layers of just 16-microns (0.0006 in.), producing prototypes with exceptionally fine details and ultra-thin walls down to 0.1 to 0.3 mm thick.

The Objet350 Connex is designed to provide high quality 3D models quickly and conveniently throughout the CAD/CAM process. With a large build size, it offers the flexibility to produce a single large model or multiple smaller models in one build. Now, the Fender design team can prototype a part within hours versus weeks – so they are doing a lot more of it. “We print anything from small guitar parts and amp knobs up to amp chassis and new guitar body designs,” he explains. “We do a lot of overnight printing. We set the printer before we leave, and when we get back in the morning, the parts are ready. When we’re cranking on a project, getting those prototypes back quickly really, keeps the momentum going. When we outsource and have to wait a week or two for a prototype, it can cause us to lose our steam.”

“Getting our product out first, and making sure it’s the right product, is really important at Fender. The ability to perform rapid prototyping in-house with the Objet350 Connex has had a huge impact on both fronts.”

— Shawn Greene, Fender

Greene and his team are extremely happy with the finish and detail of parts printed on their Objet350 Connex. “We can even put text on very small parts and it shows,” he says. “We get very sharp radi, and it’s very easy to switch out materials. We’ve used every one that Stratasys offers.”

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.