A market-leading uPVC specialist says additive manufacturing is helping to keep it ahead of the competition following its latest investment in the technology.
Liniar, whose plastics mixing plant in Denby, Derbyshire, is the largest in Europe, employs 500 people and works around the clock to produce 32,000 tonnes of material annually, using it to create and supply windows, doors, conservatories, decking and fencing to specialist fabricators and installers within the fenestration and leisure industries.
With more than 50 registered patents and a Queen’s Award under its belt, Liniar has big ambitions when it comes to product design – and 3D printing is at the very heart of its success.
“3D printing has become an integral part of our design process. I think we’d be lost without it now,” said Product Design Manager Tom Roberts.
“And it’s not only product development and design that we use it for. We also print jigs and fixtures for our fabrication divisions, so that means we’re not having to machine components to produce things like saw blocks or drill jigs.”
Liniar has used a Stratasys Objet260 Connex3 for around six years but more recently installed an F370, with both machines supplied by 3D-printing expert and Stratasys UK platinum partner SYS Systems.
The Polyjet triple-jetting technology of the Connex offers precision multi-material printing in a spectrum of colours, giving unmatched design freedom. The power of the F370 lies in its Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) technique, which uses industrial-grade thermoplastics to produce tough and accurate parts that can withstand vigorous testing.
Mr Roberts said: “With the two printers we have the best of both worlds. We can print rigid material, which is useful for a lot of the extruder profiles we produce, but we also have a co-extruder gasket on our profiles.
“We design a lot of products with gaskets and sealing, so it’s been really useful that we can print both of those materials together and produce realistic components. That just wasn’t possible before without producing tooling to extrude profiles.
“Our products can be very big. We have a lot of things like screw ports and clipping features that we can manufacture into the parts – we can screw them together, put an assembly together and we know that it works.
“The biggest cost saving is time. Rapid prototyping allows us to develop new products faster. We can design products, assemble them, make some changes, re-print it and try it again, all in the space of a day.”
Part of the popular F-Series, the office-friendly F370 is about versatility, intelligence, quality and affordability, enabling users to produce everything from fast, low-cost concept models to durable and repeatable assemblies.
Mr Roberts said: “As great as 3D CAD is it’s always nice to have a physical part in your hands to be able to test it out and see if it performs as you think it will.
“3D printing is an excellent tool for us in that we’re able to produce prototypes and samples for our customers. They’re the people who are working with our products day in, day out. They know how they fit together and where they’re going to see problems.
“When we’re designing a new product suite the tooling can be into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, particularly for extrusion – it’s very expensive. So for us to have that confidence before we go cutting steel is ideal.”
SYS Systems is based at its Additive Manufacturing Centre in Foston, near Derby, a state-of-the-art facility hosting the very latest 3D-printing technology from across the Stratasys range.
Its machines are now available for bureau services, with its highly skilled engineers able to work on everything from single parts or short production runs to large-scale projects.
More information is available at www.sys-uk.com