In a time of 3D printers in many engineers’ (and future engineers) shops, labs, or basements, we keep looking for ways to produce parts faster. You may be asking how far away are we from 3D printing connectors. When is Samtec going to replace all its automation with a bunch of shiny 3D printers? Can I get my parts faster if I make them myself?
As a director of a regional makerspace, we deal with 3D printers every day and get questions from every direction of “what can I make with a 3D printer right now!?” Our typical answer back is “what can’t you make?!” We then must frame up the speed, scale, and material options that are easily available to makers. If you are interested in a bit of history about 3D printing, check out this article by Sculpteo.
When I put my Samtec hat back on and think of new ways to produce parts, I tend to run into a few issues. At least issues with the full assembly. Prototyping and assembly support are a couple of ways we currently use 3D printing and additive manufacturing today. I will expand on each of those applications below and how Samtec can use alternative technologies to take care of our customers.
Checking the form and fit of a component or feature in an application is typically a gateway into using 3d printing. The overall size and tolerance would be your starting point on the type of 3D printer you will need. Samtec will typically migrate to an SLA (Stereolithography) 3D printing technique for our connector development. This has always given us better resolution for insulator features and can typically handle very light assembly techniques to build initial samples. Typically, we cannot use these parts for functional test, but they can help prepare automation and marketing for what they need to do next. Some of our favorite vendors to work with are ProtoLabs and Xometry. They support 3D printing applications, as well as, many other advanced manufacturing techniques for prototypes and low volume builds.
We do not typically 3D print connector pins, but have dabbled with this process in the past. The problem with this is similar to the plastics. It can give you a form and fit, but not the function. Currently, available metals and alloys just do not have the same spring properties of traditional materials.
Tooling and Assembly Support
Over the years, Samtec has taken pride in the flexibility of our designs and engineering talents. Between 20%-30% of our business is making modifications of ASP’s (Altered Standard Products) for a specific customer need. With this style of business we need a flexible processes and tooling that can be manipulated on the fly. We have used plastic 3D Printed guides and fixtures to position assemblies in tooling. We have used 3D printed dies to create custom thermoformed plastic shells for packaging. Metal 3D printed components may be used for higher wear applications. We have found it helpful to evaluate a few different methods by working with a regional rep who carries multiple options. (One we have worked with on multiple occasions is Integrated Machinery System) Some metal tools we have been able to use right out of the machines, where others needed a bit of post processing.
We continue to keep our eyes on combining technologies, new materials, composites, and faster advanced manufacturing techniques. Every time we find something interesting, our automation and operations team step up and innovate. With Samtec’s speed, built in flexibility, and innovations on our website, we like to think we are keeping pace with the in-home replicators. If you have not ever used Samtec’s sample program, we can typically get you not only a representation of your assembly, but the actual fully functional assembly as a sample within 24 hours. If that is not fast enough to check your design, we have downloadable 3D models on most of our assemblies available instantly (supporting nearly 100 types of software and file formats).
Still Not Enough!
Do you need a larger volume faster? Many 3D printers can print multiple parts at the same time, but each addition adds time to the process. What about using optimized advanced manufacturing and logistics at their finest? Samtec Reserve™ is a new designation that we’ve provided on over 200,000 (and growing quickly) connectors and cables. These are popular stocked parts that are guaranteed to ship in 1-day!
3D printing and other additive technologies are amazing and evolving how we build and design products. The speed of other advanced manufacturing techniques is also evolving. Where we can not fully 3d print a connector right now the utilization of 3D printing in the design and development process definitely speeds things up and helps us bring new solutions to you faster.