In Kawasaki Motors Corp.’s 2.1 million square-foot facility in Lincoln, Nebraska that employs over 2,400 plant workers, 75 engineers have been given a BigRep large-format 3D printer to find innovative solutions to their unique manufacturing challenges. By applying additive solutions to roadblocks in their advanced manufacturing of off-road vehicle, light railcar and aerospace products Kawasaki has realized some astounding cost and time savings.
The central production facility for the United States, Kawasaki’s Lincoln plant works on a wide variety of intensive projects. From the recreational vehicles and other transportation solutions the company is usually known for, all the way to brand-new North American endeavors into aerospace, where cargo doors for the Boeing 777X are manufactured, Kawasaki is ambitiously pushing the limits of industry from their home in the Great Plains.
But such a large variety of engineering challenges requires a flexibility that often leads to serious dependence on outsourcing to acquire factory tooling and the other various equipment and parts needed for production. To overcome this challenge, Kawasaki turned to BigRep.
End Tooling in Automated Equipment
Before their BigRep 3D printer, Kawasaki’s tooling was manufactured externally with heavy steel over long lead times and at high cost, making any of the necessary iterating a significant financial burden. The Lincoln team received quotes upwards of $500 US for outsourced collets that cost as little as $17 to produce much faster in-house using BigRep’s PLA filament.
Improving Factory Equipment
When Kawasaki’s engineering team brought in laser engraving to etch vehicle identification numbers into recreational vehicle frames, they found the engraving unit was shipped with an imperfect part that could have caused some real problems for planned production.
“I asked the company for the 3D models and when they sent them I was able to modify their part to improve the fit for that clamping device, 3D print my part and swap them out the next day.”
Kawasaki wasn’t a stranger to 3D printing before diving into large format with their BigRep, and their wealth of experience with advanced manufacturing equipment helped to further inform their choice.
They’ve also found that having a large-format additive manufacturing system open to their greater engineering and research team has led to a variety of efficiencies and unplanned solutions. The ability to use plastic brackets and other tooling in their CNC tube bending process for an extended period provides massive savings for the facility and speeds prototyping processes along, unhindered by outsourcing delays or limits to iterations. Fast solutions to unexpected blockers, like lengthy approval processes for aerospace projects, provide a valuable route to remove bottlenecks from the production process and gain time on projects.
Having reduced tooling expenses by an astounding 85% and returned their investment in about six months, Kawasaki is only optimistic about the future of BigRep and large-format additive manufacturing in the company.