As part of our continuing effort to minimize our product improvement lead times for our customers, Satellite Industries recently added 3D printing to our long list of in-house capabilities. The purchase of a 3DP Workbench allows us to quickly create 3D prototypes of product improvements as well as brand new products. What previously might have taken one to two weeks to prototype at an outside firm, and cost several thousand dollars, can now be “printed” overnight for a fraction of the cost and be waiting for our review in the morning.
For those of you not familiar with 3D printing, just ask your kids! 3D printers have become popular educational tools in high school classrooms around the world. There are several types of 3D printers, each with its own set of capabilities. Prices on 3D printers can range from just a couple hundred dollars for a do-it-yourself kit, to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a production quality machine. Some can print parts directly out of stainless steel or brass using a laser to fuse metal powder together. Others use a laser to solidify a liquid resin into the desired shape.
We all know that minimizing time-to-market is critical to maintaining your edge over the competition. Having this technology in house allows Satellite to react much quicker to requests for product improvements than our competitors. Something that our customers appreciate from the leader in portable restrooms. It also allows us to provide our customers with a working prototype of a new design for their approval, before we start production tooling. We can send a new 3D design to the printer before we leave at night, and have it waiting for us in the morning. This lets us evaluate the new design quickly, make changes if necessary, and have another prototype waiting for us the next day.
As a real-life example of Satellite’s product development capabilities, we recently received a request for a new product from an overseas customer. New laws passed in his area required the conversion of their eastern-style squat bowls to western-style sit-down bowls. The customer asked if we could design an adapter that fit over their squat bowl, and plug in to the existing plumbing for a foot flush, to provide a western bowl with a seat and lid. Time and cost were both very important to our customer. They had several thousand toilets that needed to be converted as soon as possible, knowing that in the future they may take the time to replace the squat bowl and tank all together, but didn’t have the time for that right now.
Given this information, our engineering team quickly developed a simple solution in CAD consisting of a single rotationally-molded part, two flush nozzles, and a few pieces of hardware to secure it over the squat bowl. A full size prototype was made on our new printer and then tested in our wet lab for ease of installation and proper flushing action. We then shipped the prototype to the overseas customer for their review.
The above photo shows a portion of the western bowl adapter part being printed. The crisscross pattern you see is called “in-fill” or “support structure”. This is used to fill in the hollow spaces of a part, so the layers above it have a surface to be built onto. The printer doesn’t like extruding plastic in mid-air – trust me!
The above photo shows a finished portion of the adapter part. By tweaking the settings of the machine, the surface finish on printed parts can be adjusted from very smooth to fairly coarse. Getting a very smooth finish on such a large part can add many hours to a print job, so we keep the end use of the prototype in mind when setting up the print.
Above is a photo of the top portion of the prototype, built upside down so that support structure was not needed on the interior. From this photo you get a sense of the size of parts we’re able to build in one shot.
Everyone at Satellite Industries strives daily to provide high value products and services for our customers. We know that the faster we can react to customer requests, the more competitive our customers can be in their market place. Investing heavily in leading edge technology helps Satellite to remain the world leader in portable restrooms and accessories, and helps our customers to do the same.