General Motors’ Spring Hill Assembly plant is using 3D printers to create the maintenance parts it needs rather than buying them, improving production efficiency helping the company save money.
Industry publication Additive Manufacturing recently spoke to Chris Gaddes, a specialist with design firm Gresham Smith. Gaddes has spent the last five years working under contract at the Spring Hill plant in Tennessee, where he runs the plants 3D printing operations and looks for various ways he can apply the technology on the production line.
Gaddes was originally contracted as a CAD technician at Spring Hill, but moved into the 3D printing role after he was tasked with finding ways to employ an under-utilized Makerbot Replicator 3D printer the plant had on hand. One day, a purchasing manager approached him about 3D-printing an expensive washer instead of buying it, so he obliged. The role snowballed from there, with Gaddes going on to find more similar items to print, helping upkeep the plant’s various machines and tools.
“That was the ‘aha’ moment,” Gaddes told Additive Manufacturing. “That was when we realized we can now potentially replace parts instead of buying a whole assembly, and print locally instead of sending jobs out.”
The plant has since expanded its fleet of 3D-printers and upgraded from the inexpensive printer it started with. However, Gaddes says plants don’t have to spend a ton of money to get started on 3D printing, and the investment often pays for itself as long as you can put it to use.
“You don’t have to have a half million-dollar machine to have success,” Gaddes explained. “Our most recent machine was a few thousand dollars, and it was only a couple of months before we had easily saved that cost with the printer. If you have just a couple of ideas, you can pay for your printer – and everything else is icing on the cake.”
Gaddes now also works to spread the word about 3D printing within GM, saying the company wants employees to start considering if they can 3D-print a part before rushing to purchase it.
Source: Additive Manufacturing