A year from concept to launch is impressive, especially when that product is a complete reworking of a traditionally fixed CNC workshop machine. This is exactly what Yeti Tool, a startup specialising in CNC tooling, was able to achieve thanks to a scalable and networkable 3D-printing solution from CEL-UK.
CNC machines enable you to lathe, route, mill, and far more with absolute precision, using digital accuracy that far surpasses the skill of the human hand. Their size, weight and space, however, means that they’re usually housed in a fixed location. This is where Yeti Tool’s new portable CNC machine, Smart Bench, comes in. Realising this idea was a huge undertaking and one that was only made possible through a 3D printing-driven research and development process.
Yeti Tool has a well-established history of producing engineering products and solutions, including direction drilling equipment. Smart Bench is the company’s latest product and what makes it so different from any other CNC machine on the market is that it can be packed down and moved from one location to another in minutes.
To tackle many of the design challenges it was up against, Yeti Tool started trialling 3D printers two years ago to accelerate its product design and development process.
“Someone turned up with a printer one day,” explains Ed Sells, Managing Director of Yeti Tool. “We started using it and it wasn’t long until we realised the potential for iterative design.”
The arrival of the 3D printer enabled Yeti Tool to enhance its development process, with the ability to test real parts and make adjustments without the lengthy wait and cost of prototypes. This in-house approach dispensed with the need for tooling and shipping, significantly reducing the costs associated with bringing a new product to market.
However, as the company’s reliance on 3D printing increased, the need for a reliable and high-quality printing solution was required. CEL-UK Robox and RoboxDual machines were tested and their ease of use and reliability made them a perfect fit for the company. And, with the addition of the Mote and Root devices, advanced networking enabled the company to connect their 3D printers so that all design engineers had immediate access to a machine.
Networking enables the design engineers to send prints directly from their workstations to the production floor. Improvements, alterations and additions can now all be made and tested quickly with little additional cost. By contrast, making alterations using traditional tooling is expensive, and even once a change is made there’s still the issue of shipping and delivery. Strikingly, 3D printing has enabled Yeti Tool to bring the number of parts manufactured on site from one to 30.
“The ability to modify on the fly with next day results makes a real difference. If we had a tool change, that would be a real headache, you wouldn’t be able to roll in the changes fast enough,” comments Ed.
For any new product iteration levels are going to be high, but when 3D printing becomes an integral part of the production process, development tweaks and improvements can be made at any point. Investing in six CEL-UK 3D printers enabled Yeti Tool to develop and produce the Smart Bench quickly. But, like any piece of workshop machinery, reliability is essential.
The CEL-UK Robox 3D printers are part of the workshop tooling and, as with any integral part of the production, need to be serviced and maintained. It’s a little spoken subject, but maintenance contracts are what keep production lines rolling, and this was a significant consideration for Yeti Tool when choosing a 3D printer.
The service contract now includes a 24-hour a day working swap out. If any machine stops working, CEL-UK will replace it with another machine within 24 hours ensuring there is limited effect on the production line.
“Having a maintenance contract with CEL gives us huge peace of mind since it’s a technology that we rely on in-house,” comments Ed.
3D printing enabled Yeti Tool to get the Smart Bench to market with little initial investment. The ability to design and test ideas quickly dramatically enhanced their development process and ultimately made the Smart Bench possible.
3D printing has made a product possible that may not have been viable with the costs associated with traditional prototyping and tooling.