IRA Green Inc. (IGI) manufactures and distributes 40,000 unique uniform items and accoutrements earned and proudly worn by military personnel worldwide. IGI’s tool shop manufactures coining and blanking dies and produces small fixtures for welding and polishing made in Dupont Delrin, metal or wood. IGI, based in Providence, Rhode Island, says it is the largest manufacturer and distributor of United States military decorations, medals, insignia and uniform related accessories.
Business is good; new fixtures are required daily. Using traditional milling processes means each job has to wait in the tool shop queue for several days, resulting in bottlenecks and lead times of several days to weeks. Each fixture requires eight hours of CNC programming and setup of pockets, or contour electrodes for tool steel and wire EDM flat pockets, at a cost $300 for every fixture.
IGI looked into replacing some or all of their existing processes with 3D printing. After seeing the Rize One 3D printer at a trade show, they looked into it further with the help of a Dassault Systèmes Authorized Reseller, Caelynx. iGI was impressed with the part strength and material properties which allowed materials to be drilled, polished, and welded without welding flash and without increasing part temperature during welding. IGI also appreciated that the Rize One could be used in the design office, and not in a separate shop.
IGI Manufacturing Manager Bill Yehle says he wanted to move to fixturing with Rize 3D printed parts to reduce tool room backlog yet maintain headcount. “Implementing RIZE 3D printing as part of a strategic process shift has completely transformed our production process,” says Yehle. It has added tool room skills to higher skilled CAM and machine building tasks, so fixture design can be accomplished at the time of product design to parallel-path the design/manufacturing development process.
Prior to using Rize, machine operators clamped the piece down on the machine, which required considerable trial and error to get the placement right. They also tried melting the mold into nylon to hold it in place, but this also required a time-consuming process of trial and error – “turning and burning,” Yehle calls it, and did not meet IGI’s accuracy requirements.
Precision is critical. The 3D printed fixtures hold the piece while it is being nailed in the welder, ensuring precision and accuracy of nail placement. This speeds the process because it eliminates the need for repeated manual adjustment of the fixtures. It also saves time from machine operators placing one nail at a time using traditional machining. Using Rize manufactured fixtures, IGI has been able to standardize the center of the fixture for nailing the piece without requiring adjustment.
Since implementing RIZE 3D printing less than a year ago, Yehle says IGI’s design team has printed approximately 300 fixtures. They use their Rize One 3D printer daily to manufacture fixtures in 50 minutes at a cost of $2.00 per part. This enables IGI’s design team to produce seven different versions of fixtures per day that can be used for welding and polishing. IGI now standardizes molds and nails, resulting in faster setup and changeover, repeatability and increased accuracy. “We have realized an 80 percent time savings in setup and changeover alone using Rize, and virtually eliminated errors,” says Yehle.
IGI is also taking advantage of Rize’s unique ink marking capability. This allows IGI designers to print work order numbers, line numbers and pictures of the piece on the fixtures for identification and instruction for part use and storage. These markings also serve as three points of verification for machine operators to prevent errors.
When IGI fabricates steel fixtures to sustain heavier loads, they use the Rize One 3D printer to print functional prototypes for steel molds. They iterate the prototypes until they get it right and then they turn to the tool room for final steel fixture manufacturing. Previously, they iterated fixture designs two to three times in steel at a cost of $300 and lead times of 2 days per iteration. Rize enables IGI to produce seven prototypes per day at $2 each.
IGI is continuing to find ways to improve their processes using 3D printing. They regularly iterate their fixture designs to enable easier removal of the molds from nail and welding machines and to further enhance the standardization and repeatability of the production process for increased speed and accuracy.
Some of these enhancements include printing fixtures within fixtures — the base fixture is a standard size while the fixture insert is customized for the piece, threading the molds for screws and printing spacers that enable selected molds to fit securely on certain machines.
IGI is also considering using Rize to manufacture service and spare parts on-demand for their machinery to reduce the time and cost of sourcing and ordering machined parts, especially when parts are obsolete or suppliers have gone out of business.
“The process we are using with RIZE gives us a unique competitive advantage,” said Yehle. “And we are looking to expand the use of RIZE technology to applications in other areas of the company.”
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