East/West Industries, Inc. is a company in the aerospace industry that specializes in designing and manufacturing aircraft seats and life-saving products for aircrew. Founded in 1968, this business is owned by a woman and has established partnerships with major aircraft OEMs such as Boeing, Lockheed, and Sikorsky. It has received numerous awards for its quality and supplier services.
One of the tasks in East/West’s production process involves creating sheet metal components. For a specific customer project, a machined forming die was required. However, it was discovered that the die was damaged just before the project was set to begin. Since East/West’s machine shop was already occupied with other production parts, outsourcing a new tool became necessary, which posed a risk to meeting the customer’s delivery deadline. Even if the machine shop had available capacity, manufacturing a new die from scratch would involve purchasing tool steel and spending time on machining the complex shape, further jeopardizing the delivery schedule.
To address the issue, East/West utilized their Fortus 450mc™ 3D printer, which is capable of producing concept models, workholding tools, and assembly fixtures. They employed FDM® Nylon 12CF carbon fiber material for printing, a composite polymer known for its strength and rigidity, suitable for certain applications as a substitute for metal. Instead of machining a replacement die, which carried the risk of prolonging the production timeline, the engineers at East/West made the decision to 3D print the full-size forming die using the Fortus 450mc and FDM Nylon 12CF material.
The 3D printed die performed flawlessly, meeting the requirements of rigidity and toughness necessary to complete the job. The complexity of the die’s shape was not a limiting factor since 3D printing avoids the typical constraints associated with machining. Outsourcing a new die would have taken approximately eight weeks, but East/West managed to print and deploy the die in under a week, resulting in an 87% reduction in lead time. Furthermore, the cost savings amounted to $4000, representing an 80% decrease compared to the expense of outsourcing a tool.
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