Save Time & Money with 3D Printing Manufacturing Solutions

When Ryan Enright started work at Piper Aircraft, his first assignment was a tough one. They had a 3D printing machine that the engineers called the “The Toy Maker”. It was sitting idle in a storage room with the lights off. Ryan’s manager said, “Here is the machine, see if you can figure it out. If you can come up with any ideas or a way to use it, then everyone will be happy.”

We sat down with Ryan to talk about how “The Toy Maker” turned into a business-critical piece of Piper’s manufacturing process. 

Call Prototyping Solutions at (888) 220-6293 to find out what 3D printing can do for your business.

It’s About Time

Ryan’s first challenge came out of the blue when a large die used for forming thick pieces of stainless steel broke. They reached out to several companies about having a new die made, but the estimates were that it would take 6 months to have a new die machined. 

Ryan knew that waiting 6 months for a new die was not an option. “We had to come up with some sort of fix, or we don’t make exhausts. So we decided to print the blocks.” 

Some of the engineers on the team were concerned about using polycarbonate plastic to form such thick metal, but when Ryan brought them a test block in less than 24 hours, they agreed to give it a try. 3 years later, some of the early polycarbonate form blocks were still in use.

Most dies took 4-6 weeks to machine instead of 6 months, but 3D printing still replaced much of this work because they could print the same part within a day or two. 

It’s About Money

Time was the most critical factor that brought 3D printing to the heart of Piper’s manufacturing process, but the budget is critical for any manufacturing operation. If 3D printing had been more expensive than traditional methods, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. As it turned out, cost was not a problem. 

“To machine the average form block for Piper, we paid upwards of $2,500. I could print that same block and it would be $200 or $300.” This price allowed Piper to try more innovative ideas and solve problems in ways that hadn’t seemed possible before. 

This also made a huge difference whenever complications arose. If the springback on a form block was off by a degree or two, they could quickly print another one instead of having to wait an additional 4-6 weeks. When necessary, they could go through multiple form blocks in just a few days, all for a fraction of the cost of machining a single form block. 

“If You Can Think Of It, You Can Print It”

Over the years, Ryan identified a wide range of 3D printing applications including drill bars, weld jigs, and tooling fixtures. They tried more and more ideas as the 3D printer continued to deliver. 

“It wasn’t like I knew in my head that it was going to work, but we had to try something. The printer enables you to do that, to prototype, to give something a try again in a relatively short amount of time.”

The “Toy Maker” – From Zero to Hero

After a while, more and more teams started relying on the 3D printer. “The Toy Maker” went from being rarely used to running 24×7. The room that had once been dark most of the time even got an external “in use” light so that the Piper team could quickly start the next job as soon as possible.  

Ryan’s good work didn’t go unnoticed. The Board of Directors came through and they were shocked to see how much the 3D printer was being used. The Vice President who had initially authorized the 3D printer purchase came up and shook Ryan’s hand and said, “Thank you for figuring this out!”

Ryan Enright: 3D Printing Evangelist

Based on his success at Piper, Prototyping Solutions hired Ryan to work with our customers so that they can be sure that they are getting the most value out of their 3D printers.  While we think that everyone needs a 3D printer, nothing makes us more uncomfortable than a 3D printer sitting idle while a company wastes time and money on outdated processes. That is why we commit to working with our customers beyond the sale by providing world-class service and support. Ryan helps our customers turn “Toy Makers” into time savers. And money savers. And in some cases career makers. 

Find out more about 3D printing form blocks and tools like drill bars, weld jigs, and fixtures. Contact one of our engineering consultants today at (888) 220-6293 for a free analysis of your manufacturing process. You might even get to work with Ryan Enright.

Case Study: Piper Aircraft

Piper Aircraft designs and manufactures efficient single-engine and twin-engine trainer, personal and business aircraft. Download the case study to see what happened when they replaced an expensive machining process for creating form blocks with 3D printing.

Find out more about 3D printing form blocks and tools like drill bars, weld jigs, and fixtures.  Contact one of our engineering consultants today at (888) 220-6293 for a free analysis of your manufacturing process. You might even get to work with Ryan Enright.

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