Purchasing new equipment is a big investment for any company and whilst various members of our team have individual experience in 3D printing from previous roles and personal use, we have never had a 3D printer at Fifth Wheel.
In October 2022, we decided to trial the Ultimaker S5 3D printer for three weeks, a printer that can print everything from quick prototypes to complex, technical parts and given that we predominantly use CNC machining to produce parts, we were interested to see how 3D printing could be integrated as part of our design process.
When the printer arrived, we quickly got into brainstorming mode and began to consider what complicated, fiddly jobs could be made easier using the printer – things that we would normally do on the CNC but that often proved disruptive to production or that didn’t quite do what we wanted it to do.
One of the things we all agreed on was the production of axle dust caps. Whilst this is a simple component rarely seen by the customer, they can take between two and three hours of machining to produce – with varying results. Often, this requires someone experienced in 2-sided machining and an understanding of where the programme can go wrong – a complicated process full of failure points.
We hoped having this new printing tool would help us improve the design and make larger quantities overnight – and it did! By re-designing the part slightly to make it ‘printer friendly’, we began printing 3 x caravans worth of dust caps overnight – making good use of downtime. An excellent result!!
Excited by this, we went on to design brackets, spacers etc. functional parts that would otherwise require spending thousands of pounds on tooling to achieve or consider a complicated CNC machining approach.
By the end of the trial, there was no doubt that this was a machine to invest in and we could see how it would yield significant benefits including producing the parts we needed more quickly and easily.
Several months on, the Ultimaker S5 3D printer is now being used at Fifth Wheel on a variety of projects and processes and this has enabled us to increase productivity and efficiency through the production of parts and specialist tools for shop floor staff.
There is no doubt that bringing more capability will help facilitate future growth for Fifth Wheel.
Watch our time lapse of the Ultimaker S5 3D printer in action!