Maintenance-Free 3D Printed Grippers Make Packaging Machines Effective

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019 | 2517 Views

Thanks to plastic grippers from the 3D printer, producers save 85 percent on costs and 70 percent on time.

When an eagle grasps prey, it adapts its grip to the respective size in a lightning fast move. The packaging industry can only dream of this flexibility. Their metal grippers, which for example put the lid on cream jars, are usually limited to a single format. Therefore, it often takes weeks for a product change, until the right gripper is made. It is 85 percent cheaper and 70 percent faster with robust and lightweight plastic grippers made of igus tribo-filaments. They come directly from the 3D printing process.

In addition to the digitisation of the entire economy, 3D printing is currently considered one of the major topics of innovation. The vision of single batches becomes a reality and enables, for example, the personalised serial production of furniture, shoes or watches. But the packaging industry also benefits from additive manufacturing.

If the CAD data of a product are available, it would be easy to manufacture it in an additive process. Since 2015 igus has been offering tribologically optimised 3D printing filaments for the FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) process specifically for the printing of wearing parts. These filaments are made from self-lubricating iglidur high-performance plastics and optimised for wear and friction. Many companies have already used the tribo-filaments from igus.

Among the customers was Carecos Kosmetik GmbH, which faced the following problem: if a product had to be changed, the company had to have new grippers made for the packaging machines, which would grip the lids and screw onto cans. Here, the customer previously selected the elaborate machining of a gripper made from aluminium. Not only did that cost up to 10,000 euros per part, it also took a changeover time of six weeks. That is too long a wait in an industrial sector, where in the beginning of the Industry 4.0 era it is increasingly important to be able to economically produce even small batches. The solution: With the tribologically-optimised iglidur I150 filament, the packer has found an extremely stable and at the same time, impact-resistant material for 3D printing, with which a gripper can be printed within 10 to 12 hours.


50 times more wear-resistant than standard materials: igus printing filaments

Due to the high costs and the long production time of the metal grippers, the company initially tried to 3D print the grippers with standard plastics such as ABS and PLA. However, the printing processes did not provide satisfactory results. For this reason, Carecos Kosmetik GmbH turned to igus and with iglidur I150 it now has a lubrication-free and maintenance-free tribo-filament optimised for friction and wear. Because almost every element of a gripper is flexible and glides in this movement on surfaces and shafts and pins, so that the individual parts are exposed to constant wear. Metallic parts must often be fitted with separate bearings or lubricated in the application. The use of iglidur I150 in 3D printing enabled the company to save up to 85 percent of the cost and 70 percent of the manufacturing time compared to the previously selected aluminium formats. But that is not all. The printed plastic grippers are also seven times lighter than metal grippers because of their material.

Besides its ease of processing, the special feature of iglidur I150 is its food contact compliance with EU Regulation 10/2011. With this certification, customers can also use the versatile tribo-filament to print special parts for moving applications that are in direct contact with foodstuffs, beverages or even cosmetics. In addition to iglidur I150, igus offers five further filaments for the printing of wearing parts in a wide variety of application scenarios. Compared to standard materials such as polylactide (PLA), the high-performance plastics from igus are up to 50 times more wear-resistant and can be processed on all standard 3D printers.


Printing service expands material range

Since many companies do not have their own 3D printers, customers can have their individual wear-resistant parts printed directly at igus using the FDM process or selective laser sintering. For these cases, igus offers a 3D printing service. Tribo-filaments can be obtained as a filament material, or alternatively as an already finished, ready-to-install printed component from the igus 3D printing service. The appropriate data is transferred online into the browser window in STEP format via drag & drop. Next, the required quantities can be specified and a suitable material selected. Result: Depending on the request, a formal offer is made or an order is placed immediately. In the SLS printing process, igus can also produce complex special parts very quickly and even make components with a height of up to 300 millimetres, which could only be produced in mechanical or casting technology with much more elaborate processing and using expensive special tools. Even today, small batches of up to 500 units are being produced from the company’s own laser sintering material iglidur I3 and the SLS material for gears iglidur I6 within a very short time.