GKN Driveline expands deployment of Stratasys’s 3D printing solutions at plant in Florence

End-of-arm tools produced on the Fortus 450mc 3D printer

GKN Driveline—a UK-based, multi-national driveline components supplier and division of global engineering company GKN—is expanding deployment of Stratasys’s 3D printing solutions at its plant in Florence, Italy, thus replacing several traditional manufacturing processes.

GKN Driveline serves over 90 percent of automotive manufacturers globally, including the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group as well as Ferrari and Maserati. Customer lead times are continuing to shorten and the plant in Florence identified several applications that 3D printing could be used for, facilitating an overall increase in productivity.

The plant’s factory floor team is using the Fortus 450mc fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer to produce complex assembly tools for the production line in almost 70 percent less time than it takes using traditional methods. This, in turn, has enabled the team to undertake feasibility analyses of the tools and start using them more quickly, therefore accelerating the overall production schedule.

As an example, the Fortus 450mc allowed the team to redesign a greasing nozzle tool that improves grease distribution as well as eliminates the need to clean up spillages. This has proved crucial in streamlining the production cycle of half-shafts1, enabling the plant to supply exceptional quality parts.

The team also managed to print a bespoke end-of-arm tool that moves individual components from one point of the assembly line to the next. It is made from Stratasys’s ULTEM 9085 high-performance 3D printing material and can therefore endure prolonged use, said to equal that of a like-for-like metal component. A number of 3D printed end-of-arm tools are now in use across production, significantly reducing production downtime.

3D printing is also being used to produce customized, on-demand replacement parts for manufacturing equipment. For instance, the team recently printed a missing cable bracket for a robot, saving a week on the time it would have taken for a supplier to deliver it and consequently accelerating the delivery of parts to customers.

‘The ability to quickly 3D print tools and parts that are customized to a specific production need gives us a new level of flexibility and significantly reduces our supply chain,’ said Carlo Cavallini, GKN lead process engineer and team leader at the plant. ‘Considering that we produce several thousand, individual parts a week, this ability to manufacture on-demand is crucial to ensuring our production line is always operational and maintains business continuity.

‘As we continue to design parts specifically for additive manufacturing, we are finding more and more applications that are delivering value. In the future, I believe that FDM 3D printing will become an integral part of our entire tool development cycle and help us further improve business performance.’    

Websites: www.gkn.com/en/our-divisions/gkn-driveline/ and www.stratasys.com

1 A half-shaft is the shaft in rear-wheel-drive vehicles along which power is sent from the final drive (the last part of the transmission system) to one driven wheel or pair of wheels.