There’s a lovely expression in English about “good things coming in threes”. My family used this as a way of prophesising future fortune: if an aunt, nephew, cousin or uncle had for example experienced two instances of good luck in a single day then it was an absolute, copper-bottomed certainty(!) that he or she would win the lottery before nightfall.
Now I’m going to corrupt that saying a little, because whoever I visit these days, it seems that more and more companies are discovering how three-D printing can bring advantages to their businesses.
For example, I recently met with a specialist valvemaker, where one of the directors was keen to talk about how they tailor-make valves to order. As you might expect, the workshop had the unique aroma of machine oil and hot metal that you find in every valve facility world-wide. After the tour, the director explained that, given the size and complexity of the valve bodies, practically each valve is individually cast and so the manufacturer is very reliant on timely deliveries from the foundry in order to meet client expectations. Asked about strategies that could help reduce the foundry lead times, the director replied that at least one foundry was currently checking whether the sand molds could be produced directly using a 3D printing technique. This would be a significant breakthrough, he said, as unique valve designs could be quickly cast without the need to first produce patterns in wood or plastic, etc.
This obviously made my ears prick up: I’d only really heard of 3D printing in industrial applications about six months ago and it seemed my perception of this technology was seriously lagging. But I was in for a second surprise. The director started to discuss another valve design and could see that I was struggling to appreciate its inner workings. When quick sketches on a sheet of paper didn’t help, he left the room and quickly returned with a beautiful cut-away model of the valve in question. It was a real work of art, complete with nuts, bolts, flanges, trims and supporting brackets. And as soon as he operated the valve I could immediately grasp the principles. The director agreed that the model was really beneficial and indicated that it had in fact been used to good effect at a recent trade show. And here comes the punchline: when I asked where this unique, beautiful model had come from, the director replied in an almost offhand manner that one of their newest engineers had had it printed on an FDM machine!
Seeing my clear interest, the director further noted that not only was the model a great way to demonstrate the technology involved, but it also had a major advantage when compared to real valves: namely it was much, much lighter and so very easy to take along when visiting potential customers. Indeed, just before the meeting came to a close he added that the company was seriously considering making 3D versions of all the key valves in its portfolio, specifically to facilitate transportation to and from trade shows.
So there you have it: 3D printing and additive manufacturing are fast becoming established practices in the flow control industry. Perhaps not yet to directly print metal parts, but the principles are understood and being used to good effect. So who knows: perhaps Valve World could soon be setting up 3D printers at future Valve World events? That way, overseas visitors wouldn’t have to transport heavy valves to display on their booths: they could simply send the appropriate digital files and have working models printed on-site right before the show commences!
Are you interested in 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing? Then check out our dedicated website to these topics here!