Additive manufacturing Own 3D printing product: when the customer becomes the designer

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

Germany — At Franken Guss, individualized sword grips for fencing were manufactured additively using selective laser melting. Since this process enables the production of very small batch sizes, additive manufacturing allows the company to open up new industries.

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The customer is very satisfied with the 3D printed epee handle, as it is perfectly fitted to the shape of his hand.
The customer is very satisfied with the 3D printed epee handle, as it is perfectly fitted to the shape of his hand.
(Source: Franken Guss)

In the fencing sport, there are three types of weapons: Foil, epee, and saber. The epee is the most common, and most tournaments are epee tournaments. In epee fencing, the entire body is considered the striking surface. The handle of an epee comes in two types: a pistol grip and a French grip. The former is the most commonly used. A customer of Franken Guss, a passionate and experienced epee fencer, was looking for an optimized epee grip for years due to cramps in the fencing hand during lessons and fights. Also, the guidance of the epee tip was not perfect with the conventional epee grip.

Customized Design Using CAD Software

For this reason, he set to work himself and began planning a new epee pistol grip. First, he used modeling clay to form an individual blank (basic shape) that mapped the shape of his own hand. Our customer designed this first customized blank as a 3D model using CAD software. He then superimposed the data set of the 3D model and the views of the kneading model based on the photos. The deviations could be mathematically compensated and adjusted.

Now a digital 3D model was available, which was the basis for 3D printing. Only minor optimizations were necessary to optimally build up the part using the tool-free Selective Laser Melting (SLM) process. Software is used to guide the laser beam and remelt metal powder into a usable component. In the process, wafer-thin layers of the metal powder are built up on a base plate to form a solid metal body. Powder that has not been melted down can then be reused.

Casting Process Too Costly

A decisive factor in the choice of additive manufacturing was the small number of units with a batch size of 1 for one individualized degassing handle per hand. Producing the aluminum handles by casting would have been too time-consuming and cost-intensive, as molds are required.

“Up to what quantity additive manufacturing at Franken Guss is more worthwhile than the conventional casting process must be considered individually for each application. We have already realized small series of up to 700 pieces, but that is rather the exception. As a rule, between 1 and 50 pieces of one type are ordered. However, it is also clear that we will not manufacture tens of thousands of units using additive manufacturing as we do with casting — at least not at the present time. Additive manufacturing will never be able to replace the foundry, but is an important addition to the manufacturing portfolio, opening up completely new possibilities”, says Benjamin Schiller, engineer in the additive manufacturing department of Franken Guss.

Franken Guss is opening up completely new industries through additive manufacturing and regularly manufactures components that are unusual in the industry. Recently, for example, prototypes for record players or various components for film figures were manufactured additively and in small quantities. A number of small series have also been produced in the past.

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