Podcast: 3D Printing Saves Optical Sensors

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Podcast: 3D Printing Saves Optical Sensors

In this episode, we talk about Zeiss - one of the global leaders for high precision metrology equipment - leveraging additive manufacturing to streamline their production process from the design stage to assembly and how they’re able to do all this while satisfying their customers' ever specific needs effectively and efficiently.

In this episode, we talk about Zeiss - one of the global leaders for high precision metrology equipment - leveraging additive manufacturing to streamline their production process from the design stage to assembly and how they’re able to do all this while satisfying their customers' ever specific needs effectively and efficiently.

This podcast is sponsored by Mouser Electronics


(3:37) - How Zeiss is Using 3D Printed Parts in Serial Production

This episode was brought to you by Mouser, our favorite place to get electronics parts for any project, whether it be a hobby at home or a prototype for work. Click HERE to learn more about how additive manufacturing will play a big role in the evolution of manufacturing!


What's up peeps? This is the NextByte coming at you live for the first time. We're shooting in person, that's what I mean by live. But today we're talking about additive manufacturing. So, if you're curious about how additive is not just about 3D printing cool stuff like figurines in your home and is actually making a big impact in the real world, big players, big industry players, well then this is the episode for you. Let's get into it.

I'm Daniel, and I'm Farbod. And this is the NextByte Podcast. Every week, we explore interesting and impactful tech and engineering content from Wevolver.com and deliver it to you in bite sized episodes that are easy to understand, regardless of your background. 

Farbod: Alright folks, as you heard, we're talking about additive manufacturing today. We're coming to you live for the first time. Technically live. We live, what, 20 minutes apart, but it's the first time we're shooting it together in the same spot.

Daniel: 139 episodes in, for the first time we're shooting together. So, if there's bumps, it's because we're nervous to be in person.

Farbod: Yeah, we don't really look at each other, you know? We look at screens. Here we are being graced by each other's presence.

Daniel: Now I've got to look at Farbod in the eyes and take the heat.

Farbod: It's a special moment for us both. Alright, but before we get started with today's episode, let's talk about today's sponsor, we got Mouser Electronics. You guys know we love Mouser. And the reason we love Mouser is because they're one of the world's biggest electronic distributors. What that means is they get to work with a lot of cool industries, a lot of cool partners, and they wrote this really interesting technical resource that's super relevant to today's article. They're talking about additive manufacturing, specifically how it ties into Industry 4.0. Now what I like about this specific resource in comparison to all the others, like the different articles they have out there is they walk you through the changes from like, what we consider industry 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. And they talk about how the trend has typically been centralizing all the manufacturing resources to a plant, then making it more advanced, yada, yada, yada. But with the emergence of additive manufacturing and all this computer tech that we have, to some extent, it's kind of moving out of like the centralized location and going into on sites like into people's homes even with that.

Daniel: Yeah, it's like the democratization of manufacturing technology.

Farbod: And I'm kind of a testament to that. I have a 3D printer right there that I do, it's like for hobbyist stuff, but we've used it for some projects as well. So, I don't know, it really spoke to me, maybe again, because I'm a hobbyist, because I enjoy fiddling around with hardware, or maybe it's because we use it so much during senior design, but for anyone that's interested in additive manufacturing or manufacturing in general, I think it's a great primer on just like coming up to speed with what's going on in the world right now as it pertains to manufacturing.

Daniel: I agree. And the big point that I took away from this is how it highlights when you're doing prototyping or when you're doing precise work in small quantities, it's actually, it's not just an alternative. It's actually the preferable option given that it's like really reliable from a dimensional standpoint and really good from a supply chain standpoint. And I think that that directly addresses how Zeiss is using 3D printed parts and their serial production, you know, they have serial production, but it's not in the order of millions and millions of these high technology optic stuff because of the fact that they're making such complex, such high-tech stuff. It's probably somewhere in the order of thousands, which is why the 3D printing solution makes sense.

Farbod: Absolutely. So, it's a perfect segue to today's article. And as you hinted, we're talking about Zeiss, right? But who is Zeiss? Like, why would they even care about additive manufacturing? Well, I'm gonna be totally honest with you, I didn't know who Zeiss was, but apparently, they're like one of the biggest players when it comes to this like super high precision tooling. They've been around for, I don't even know how long. Hundreds of years, for sure. They have, I think, 50 facilities that are just dedicated to manufacturing, 30 facilities for R&D, my bad. They're in 50 countries, 30 production sites, 30 R&D facilities. So, super impressive and they typically focus on like metrology and QA tools. So again, measurements and coming up with generally high precision tools for like optical sensors, microscopes, et cetera, et cetera. So naturally a lot of different organizations depend on what Zeiss is making.

Daniel: Yeah, I know like they make lenses for many of the major camera manufacturers. They make microscopes, they make lenses for telescopes. Like basically if optics is the game, Zeiss is the name.

Farbod: That was, did you come up with that on the fly or had you, have you written that down?

Daniel: It was off the dome.

Farbod: Okay. I'll trust you. I'll trust you. But again, because they're known for measurements, like it makes sense that they've said to themselves, reliability and repeatability is like their guiding principle. Right? I mean, it makes sense. If you have an instrument manufacturer, you want it to be reliable. You want to make sure that the measurement you're getting is good and that you can repeatedly get that good measurement. So totally checks out.

Daniel: I mean, even think about when you're manufacturing something like a microscope that is going to be handling rays of light and magnifying them thousands and thousands of times, sometimes millions of times, and they have to arrive properly at the sensor, arrive properly at your eye, you have to be so precise in the manufacturing of that machine, you know, any minor imperfection or what may seem minor. Just if it changes the results. Yeah. It could completely change what the end product work, how it works, and if it even works at all.

Farbod: Absolutely.

Daniel: Think about specifically, I think what today's article dives into is how they're using 3d printing for microscopes. I mean, if you're making adapters for microscopes, you've got to be picture perfect with the way that you make every single aspect of that interface between two different parts, because otherwise you're going to lose your optical path and it's not going to work the way it's supposed to.

Farbod: Definitely. Now when it like you already hit on one of them, but when it comes to manufacturing, these folks at Zeiss, they kind of have two challenges. Right? One is that you're making, just like you said, high precision equipment that you need to make sure as you're shipping it out to someone, is calibrated, it's mounted just perfectly. And right now, they're using these brackets and adjustment screws and stuff. So, someone is manually putting all this together to make sure it's right. And obviously that's a pain, you're introducing human error into this highly machined piece of art. But on top of that, we're living in a world where customers' needs are becoming more and more customized. Right? And you have to meet that somehow. So naturally, you would have to, if you're going the traditional manufacturing route, you would have to come up with custom parts, come with the right tooling, wait for it to get to you, it's going to cost a ton. And that doesn't scale well. So that's where additive manufacturing is coming into play, right?

Daniel: Yeah. And one of the things they mentioned, especially around the human part is like you have human interaction. You require humans to be a part of the picture to be able to assemble these things and to, because in many cases you're creating a custom adapter between two different parts because you're using a human in there, you not only have the errors, the first time the human sets it up, but then also when you have the human come back and try to counter those errors and do corrections, there's still human error in that second round of corrections. I could see it being something where you iterate tons and tons and tons of time, and if you can imagine sending parts back and forth between a machine shop. It's a pain. You finally fit it and it doesn't fit correctly. I mean, I can already imagine and empathize with the customers of Zeiss and Zeiss themselves on how this is an issue and how they want to address it and imagine if you could create something that was a sure shot and it would work the first time and it mak, you know, it doesn't matter that you haven't made this geometry before. You can scan the situation, understand what's going on, plot it in 3d design and adapter, manufacture it in a way that's repeatable and in a way that you can trust the dimensions that come out of it. And if it just works first try, that probably feels like magic compared to what they're doing right now, which is like iterating, putting strain in their supply chain by shipping parts back and forth, trying to correct them, machine them, et cetera. I can see why 3d printing feels like the perfect solution for them here.

Farbod: Absolutely. So, let's talk about the solution, right? Like we talk, we mentioned it earlier. There's like a two-prong problem here. One is you need custom parts to meet like these specific demands that your customers are going to have. And two, the probably the most important one is what you had mentioned, which is you need to make sure that whatever you're assembling is actually able to output with that level of precision that everyone's expecting. So, they did something pretty ingenious here. They were like, instead of using those brackets and adjustment screws, what if for every, literally every specific machine that we have, we just make an adapter plate and we allow that to tell us if we've been lining everything up and to make sure that our sensors are, they're basically getting light in the right direction and intensity and whatever that it needs to get.

Daniel: These adapter plates, right? Just to zoom out and make sure we're on the same page. These adapter plates, all they're doing is helping make sure that other pieces of super high-tech equipment are aligned correctly. It replaces just what you're saying, the brackets with the alignment screws, just the human aspect of making sure that things are tweaked and aligned and calibrated properly. They're taking all that human error out and they're replacing it with something, it's probably a 3D printed plastic piece that's lightweight, that's low cost. And you remove the entire calibration adjustment process just by making sure that you have something that's super high precision, super high dimensional stability. And you just 3D print this adapter between the two parts, you pop them in there and it fits perfectly the way it's supposed to. You don't need to adjust with screws or gears or anything like that. I mean, to me, it takes out the entire painful part of the process, which was adjusting it. And it just snap, print a piece, probably takes a couple of hours and then it works.

Farbod: And it scales well, right? Because these folks at Zeiss, they don't have one or two products. They have like entire families of products that have different variations. And for every single one of those, you would need some sort of an adapter plate. And that's where additive manufacturing really comes into play. You can create those custom parts without spending a ton of money, you'll get it fairly quickly. And when it comes to tolerances, I think again, like the $500 3d printer I have here can print something within a what? Plus or minus 0.1 millimeter. Yeah. That's, that's crazy to think about that. That's like relatively precise.

Daniel: And let's talk quickly about like how they're doing, what they're doing, the machines that they're using for this. They're using. Go ahead.

Farbod: Before we get into that, I was going to go into the next problem that they have. Because I think it goes hand in hand with why they chose what they chose. And the next thing that they needed was really like customized parts, right? So, you have, again, customers that want different things, but they might also want different materials, right? For different scenarios, they might want composites. One person might want like very flexible plastics for whatever, or they might want a specific jig. Now they can meet all those requirements with 3D printing. But like you said, now let's transition into how they're able to do this, so take it away.

Daniel: Step one, let's say they will understand the geometry of the two machines that they're trying to interface together. The angles that the light are going to have to pass through, the geometry of the mounting surfaces of these two different machines that they're adapting together. Then they will design, and digitally, they'll design a unique adapter plate that ensures that the light travels precisely from point A to point B, the way it's supposed to between those two machines. Then this plate is 3D printed using an UltiMaker printer. I think it's important to highlight like UltiMaker is awesome. We're excited about their technology. We've even mentioned them on our previous podcast episode before. Zeiss chose UltiMaker because it's easy to use, it's flexible, consistently delivers reliable results. And that's something we talked about, right? Like being able to 3D print reliably to a level of dimensional stability that you can trust the parts that come out of it every single time. I think in addition, on top of all this, it's not something they mentioned in the article, but I, intuitively, I feel like this is something that must have been a game changer for them is the fact that UltiMaker printers are actually like relatively inexpensive. So, bang for your buck. In terms of them being able to, like we said at the beginning of this episode, democratize their supply chain. You said they've got operations in 50 different countries. They don't have to have one manufacturing center that's 3d printing stuff and sending them in the mail. These UltiMaker printers are inexpensive enough and easy to set up that they could probably buy a couple dozen of these and set up and have regional 3d printing shops, or even at some point have one 30 printing shop in every single country that they're working in. And it's because we're not talking about a multi-multimillion dollar high precision machining machine here, like the type of thing that they would have to do with right now when they're trying to like machine metal, when they switch over to 3d printing, the paradigm changes completely. The materials are cheaper. The supply chain woes are gone. And even the machines that you're using to create these parts that have a similar tolerance as like multi-million dollar machining equipment, you can probably get it for a couple hundred dollars on Amazon and get it shipped to your house and you can print it on your desktop. It's just, you know, starting tomorrow.

Farbod: What I was going to say is I, what really interested me, because Zeiss was talking about their selection, right? As any good engineer would do, they went through the process of analyzing what's out there and what makes sense for them. So, the reason they said they settled in on UltiMaker was, again, one of their guiding principles is reliability and repeatability. And that's exactly what they got from these UltiMaker printers. That's what they need to make their manufacturing dream come true and UltiMaker provides it. But on top of that, you and I, we've used UltiMaker printers before, but we're very familiar with their slicing software, Cura, which is used by literally millions of people. It works on different platforms, super reliable, awesome. But on top of that, they're also part of this. I forgot what they called it, like material alliance, which means that the printers are compatible with like a whole host of different spools of filament that you might want to use.

Daniel: And I mean, just imagine that the wide swath of different use cases that Zeiss's customers have. We talked about everything from cameras to microscopes to telescopes. You're going to have different use cases, different requirements for each of those. That's where different materials really come in. Knowing that you've got a printer that can accurately manufacture the part that you need with the correct geometry, no matter which material, which end use case you're designing it for. I mean, that's gotta be, that's a home run for sure.

Farbod: And the availability, like you said, we we've used the printers before and you can get one from Amazon and I don't know, that's kind of crazy to think about that someone that's doing manufacturing at that level can use the same kind of printer that high school students might be using for their projects. But that's a testament to how good it is, right? That it can satisfy the needs from like the most basic to the most complex. And I think it's also worth talking about like the direct benefits. I think you alluded to the cost, but Zeiss has mentioned, you know, like, generically speaking, a part that might have cost him 300 euros is now costing him 20 euros, that's a 94% reduction in cost. And the lead times went from months to days. That's kind of unbeatable.

Daniel: Yeah. I mean, and just imagine as a customer, the difference in the experience there saying, you know, I've got this unique use case where I need a bespoke adapter plate for my Zeiss equipment to work properly. Previous state, you've got to wait months, you're going to charge hundreds of dollars, hundreds of euros to be able to get this. When it shows up, it might not work correctly. You might have to make some adjustments. We might even have to go back and remanufacture it, if it didn't work correctly. All that to the new paradigm with 3d printing with UltiMaker, which is you can get the part in days. The Zeiss team is able to quickly respond to you because they're able to quickly iterate between product design and development. It only costs $20. And by the way, it works on the first try. You don't have to do manual adjustments and it's dimensionally correct from the start, which is, I mean, to me, it sounds like a win in every single column, which is crazy.

Farbod: It's a home run. That's the easiest way to put it. And I think you mentioned earlier too, we had actually talked about another episode. I mean, we had talked about UltiMaker in another episode early, early on. I just looked it up. It was episode 14, like over two years ago, how UltiMaker printers were being used in Heineken factories to reduce downtime. But another episode that I just cannot put my finger on, I think it was like one of the first five, we had talked about additive manufacturing and how it's related to aerospace. And we're talking about how moving it to be on site had advantages that range from lead time to cost, but also being able to design quicker and validate quicker and get your final production stuff figured out way quicker. Now we're talking about it two, three years later, and Zeiss, which is like a completely different industry, is doing that exact same process. So, it's not even just confined to like, high-precision tooling this is a general trend that we're seeing. Yeah, I don't know. I think it's kind of amazing.

Daniel: By the way that was episode one. Wow, little bit of Next Byte trivia. I don't know if anyone's still listening that listen to episode one when they were there but if you've been there for the entire ride, we appreciate you for being a part of the journey. For sure. Hopefully there's at least a third person in addition to the two of us.

Farbod: I think my mom at the minimum. Yeah.

Daniel: My grandpa listens to every single episode.

Farbod: Look at that four, yeah. Yeah, who would have thought? Not me.

Daniel: Not me either. I don't know. I think at a high level though, I agree. It's super interesting that we get to, you know, sitting from our perch, where we sit reviewing technology, looking at technology trends, and now that we've done this over a couple of years, we can start to see these trends play out. And we talked about in episode one, about how technology that starts in high tech that starts in aerospace generally ends up trickling down to different parts of other parts of high tech first. And then eventually it'll trickle down to like consumer available technology. We're starting to see that exact trend take place here. You know, it's gone from super high costs, building airplanes, building spaceships to like now we're starting talking about other high tech, right? Optics. I think we talked about Heineken, right? Like in, in beer factories, the democratization of 3d printing technology and this being part of the next industrial revolution. I think that's interesting. Obviously to see that trend in general, but obviously I think it's extra exciting for us to see it from the perch in which we sit being a part of the podcast that talks about technology on a weekly basis.

Farbod: And I mean, you covered it, but just a variety of topics that we've talked about is a impressive, you know, you can knock us for a lot of things, but we try to really go out there with the different types of topics that we cover, but on top of that, even among all those different topics, seeing like a convergence of trends, that's one of the most satisfying bits. Like it's almost like you've been gathering all these different pieces of puzzle. Like, I don't know. I want to say Lego, but I'm just going to stick with puzzle. And now it's finally coming together and you start until I get the picture of what's really happening across different industries. And that's again, super exciting. But yeah, I think we should do a little, little episode recap, a little TLDR.

Daniel: Yeah. Why don't you try and wrap this up into a nice little package for all of us to understand exactly what it was that we talked about.

Farbod: I mean, I'm going to do my best. Let's see how it goes. It's live. So, I'm feeling a lot of pressure here, but we're talking about Zeiss today. Zeiss is a company that produces high precision tooling. They have facilities in 50 countries. They have 30 R&D facilities. Big, big player out here. And their guiding principle is repeatability and reliability because their customers depend on something like that. Now they have two big problems when it comes to their products, right? When someone is manually assembling these things, human error can cause precision to kind of be out of whack. But on top of that, their customer's needs are becoming more and more specific and they have to meet that somehow. So that's where additive manufacturing is coming into play. They're able to leverage additively manufactured parts to make sure that everything is aligned perfectly well, that their precision equipment is actually very precise. But on top of that, make custom parts, one of parts, whatever their customers need to make sure that that tool is getting leveraged exactly to the customer's demands.

Daniel: I think you nailed it, dude. And obviously I love what this means for Zeiss's customers. And obviously this being a part of a trend for technology for everyone. I think it's exciting to see this make a win for Zeiss, the manufacturer. It makes a win for the customer. It's probably less intensive on the environment. It's cheaper for everyone. Everything happens in a shorter lead time; less materials are wasted. It sounds like the major key to unlocking all that was 3d printing, which is exciting, but obviously in terms of significance to the world. I think like you said it before, but UltiMaker-Zeiss, they've hit a home run here.

Farbod: Absolutely. Before we wrap up the episode, I want to quickly mention, we got a review today and it is from Saudi Arabia. I think this is one of the handful of reviews that we have coming from international folks, this is from Abdulziz. He talked about how much he appreciates that we highlight tech trends in different areas. So, we hope Abdulziz, if you're listening, we hope you like this episode because I think it really matches that criteria. And thank you for rocking with us. Saudi Arabia has been showing us a lot of love. So, we appreciate all of our Saudi Arabian fans and all of our international fans.

Daniel: And I will say we'll continue to hold up our end of the deal until there are way too many reviews that we can't, which is if you give us a review on Apple, on Spotify, wherever you're listening, and you leave us a little blurb of text on there, we will absolutely shout you out. We would love to thank everyone who's a big part of continuing our journey. Again, this is 139, 140 something episodes in.

Farbod: Wild, absolutely wild.

Daniel: We've never missed an episode any week and a big part of that is the motivation that we get from knowing that we're part of a growing engaged community. So, we appreciate everyone who's a part of that.

Farbod: Absolutely. All right guys, thank you so much for listening. And as always, we'll catch you in the next one.

Daniel: Peace.


That's all for today The NextByte Podcast is produced by Wevolver, and to learn more about the topics with discussed today visit Wevolver.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please review and subscribe, via Apple podcasts Spotify or one of your favorite platforms. I'm Farbod and I'm Daniel. Thank you for listening and we'll see you in the next episode.

As always, you can find these and other interesting & impactful engineering articles on Wevolver.com.

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The Next Byte: We're two engineers on a mission to simplify complex science & technology, making it easy to understand. In each episode of our show, we dive into world-changing tech (such as AI, robotics, 3D printing, IoT, & much more), all while keeping it entertaining & engaging along the way.


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The Next Byte Podcast is hosted by two young engineers - Daniel and Farbod - who select the most interesting tech/engineering content on Wevolver.com and deliver it in bite-sized episodes that are easy to understand regardless of your background. If you'd like to stay up to date with our latest ep...