Save money with sparse 3D printing

Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM 3D printing is an excellent and popular choice for 3D printing rapid prototypes, jigs, fixtures, tooling, and low volume production parts, due in part to its material choices. FDM allows you to build complex parts with the same tried and tested thermoplastics found in conventional manufacturing.

A lesser known fact is that with FDM technology, you can chose between different interior fills to increase your savings when requesting your next 3D printing job. Depending on the material requested and your prototyping needs, you can print the interior of your part in up to three standard options plus additional custom options. Today we are going to cover the two most popular options:  

  • Solid
  • Sparse

Regardless of the interior fill that you choose, the exterior of your part will always be printed in solid. We have completed jobs in which we printed the same part using both of the above-mentioned interior fills, and the parts looked identical on the outside! There was a noticeable weight difference when they were picked up, which helped to tell them apart. When choosing interior fills, there are a few factors to keep in mind. These are some basic guidelines; each project is different and should be evaluated on an individual basis.

When to choose a solid interior fill:

  • Part strength is a critical feature
  • Part is comprised of fine details & thin walls

Choosing a solid interior fill will produce the strongest part. If part strength is a critical factor for your prototype, then a solid fill is the way to go.  A good example of this is any part created to replace metal tooling, as these parts typically need to withstand high levels of impact and heat. Functional prototypes are another area in which you may not want to sacrifice strength.  If you are going to put your part through the ringer, and the interior needs to resemble the final product as closely as possible, you will want to keep it solid.

Another consideration is the amount of fine details or features that your part has. If your part has thin walls or fine features, you will want a solid fill. With thin walled parts, there typically isn’t enough room for a sparse fill.  Your savings would be marginal and it wouldn’t be worth any loss of strength.

Aerospace 3D printing

Polycarbonate (PC) form tool used in hydroforming machines

Medical Prototype 3D Printed with Ultem 1010 thermoplastic material

Parts that have thin walls are best printed in a solid interior fill

When to choose a sparse fill: 

  • Weight is an issue
  • You have a part with a large interior and strength isn’t a factor

Jigs, fixtures, and trade show parts are three great fits for a sparse interior fill. BMW was able to reduce the weight of one hand-held assembly device by 72 percent by using a sparse fill printing technique. When a worker uses a tool hundreds of times in a shift, the reduced weight can make a big difference. Large trade show parts that are shipped frequently can also benefit from a sparse fill; the reduction in weight can help reduce not only shipping costs, but the strain of setting up the parts for each show.

Perhaps the most popular way to use a sparse interior fill is on a prototype you are printing for concept design or for fit and form testing. In most of these cases, you do not need the maximum strength of the thermoplastic material for your part.  You need to hold the part in your hand, make sure it is the right size, make sure it will fit nicely inside of the final assembly, etc. It is a one and done part before moving onto manufacturing or making additional design changes. If this is the case, consider giving the sparse interior fill a try for your next 3D printed project.

3D printed ergonomic production jig

Hand held device printed in a solid interior fill to reduce the weight by 72%

aerospace 3d printing materials

Aerospace prototype 3D printed using a sparse printing technique

How much will I save with a sparse fill versus a solid?

This is a very popular question and the answer, like so many others, is that it is geometry dependent. If your part has a large solid interior, i.e. a dumbbell, then you would experience far more significant savings by printing in a sparse fill versus a part that is mostly hollow, i.e. a cup. Depending on your part geometry and your prototyping needs, this printing technique can save you a couple of dollars, or it can cut your project cost in half. If you have a part for which you would like a quote, simply upload your STL or native CAD files here and mention in the comments that you would like to try a sparse printing technique.

The 3D Printing Sweet Spot

As additive manufacturing technologies continue to improve and evolve, more and more companies are finding more and more ways to utilize the benefits of 3D printing. How do you know if 3D printing services are the right fit for your next project or at least if it is worth looking into to? 3D printing has a sweet spot within the manufacturing realm, where:

  • Part complexity is high
  • Expensive tooling is required, but
  • not justified by expected part volume

Where part complexity is high:  3D printing offers design freedom because you no longer have to design with manufacturing constraints in mind when printing your end use parts.  You can design with the end goal and get the part you need.  Let’s use NASA as an example.  Using FDM 3D printing, they were able to quickly and simply produce very complex parts in production grade thermoplastics, such as ABSplus, poly-carbonate, and Ultem for their Mars test rover, shown below. 3D-printed parts on NASA’s rover include flame-retardant vents and housings, camera mounts, large pod doors, a large part that functions as a front bumper, and many custom fixtures. 3D printing offers the design flexibility and quick turnaround to build tailored and complex parts. For example, one ear-shaped exterior housing is deep and contorted, pictured below, and would be impossible — or at least prohibitively expensive — to machine.

NASA Space Rover

About 70 of the parts that make up the above rover were built digitally, directly from CAD to 3D printing.

Aerospace 3D Printing

The above ear-shaped exterior housing is a perfect fit for 3D printing – a highly complex part with a low volume needed.

Expensive tooling is required: What if I need my prototype to be in the same process and from the same materials as the final product? Depending on the number of parts you need to produce, 3D printing has the ability to replace your metal tooling with less expensive plastic tooling for multiple manufacturing applications such as sand casting, injection molding, blow molding, and more. This allows you to produce a short run of your parts, normally between 1 and 100, quicker and at a reduced cost, all while keeping your prototype in the same plastic or metal as the final production part. Have your next prototype in a matter of days rather than weeks – and save money on your tooling.

Sand castings mold 3D printed in ASA thermoplastics using FDM technology.

SandCasting Mold2

Production parts made using 3D printed tooling

Lower expected part volume: It can be hard to justify the creation of an expensive metal tool if you only need 1 or a handful of parts. However, what is the absence of that part costing you? Hours spent on design analysis, manufacturing inefficiencies, missing potential design flaws early on, delays getting a new product to market, lost business?  This is where 3D printing really shines.  It allows you to easily justify the cost of a few prototypes to validate and test designs, a mold to produce a prototype in the same process and materials that you will use for the final product.  How about that custom fixture(s) that would speed up the manufacturing process or that scale model(s) of a new product needed for an upcoming tradeshow.  All these parts can quickly and cost effectively be produced using 3D printing.

Medical Device Prototype created using a 3D printed mold

Tooling used in Injection Molding – 3D printed using Digital ABS material with PolyJet Technology

3D printed ergonomic production jig

Custom fixture 3D printed with a sparse interior fill to make a light weight but strong part

am-sweet-spot

Ready to explore if 3D printing is right for your next project? Request a quick quote on your next 3D printing project or give us a call at 866.499.7500 for any 3D printing material or technology questions.

SUP706 Soluble Support now available on the Stratasys J750 and Objet30 (v3) Printers

Great news, the advantages of SUP706 soluble support are now available on the Stratasys J750 and Objet30 (V3) Printer family, including the Objet30 Basic, Objet30 Pro, and Objet30 Prime.  With the new addition of this soluble support material you can experience:

  • Freedom of design; easily print and clean parts with:
    • Intricate, delicate features
    • Fine details and interior cavities
    • Internal voids and undercuts
  • Significantly improved print process productivity
  • Efficiently clean many small parts at once
  • Reduce time and labor in the post-processing of support removal
  • Quicker and easier support removal using the WaterJet cleaning station

Click through the pictures on the left to see parts printed and cleaned using SUP706 soluble support material. Request More Information >>

SUP706 Soluble Support Removal Process

SUP706 gives you three ways to remove your support material.  Hands-free, peel and soak, or using the WaterJet.

Hands-Free: Minimal Cost Per Part

  1. Place part in cleaning solution tank for 2 to 24 hours (depending on geometry)
  2. After support is removed, rinse off any residue

Peel & Soak:

  1. Quickly removal most of the support manually (1 to 2 minutes per part)
  2. Place part in cleaning solution tank for 1 to 4 hours (depending on geometry)
  3. After support is removed, rinse off any residue

WaterJet: Fastest Time Per Part

  1. Use the WaterJet to remove the support material.  SUP706 is faster and easier to remove when compared to SUP705.
 

Watch the above quick video to see the three support removal methods in action.

FAQs

Q: Can I update my current Objet30 (Basic/Pro/Prime) to run SUP706 soluble support?  
A: YES – as long as it is a V3.  V2s are not eligible to update at this time.

Q: How much is the cost to update my machine?  
A: The update is FREE, there is not cost to update your machine to run SUP706.  You will need to purchase a DT3 cleaning tank in order to take advantage of the hands-free or peel & soak support removal methods.

Q: What is the update process for my Objet30 V3 machine?
A: This is a self-install update, done by the end user.  It requires only a software update for the printer and Objet Studio software.  Contact us at 866.499.7500 or support@engatech.com if you would like to request your software update.

Q: What is the price of SUP706?
A: Same as SUP705, there is no price increase

Q: Can SUP705 still be used after the update is performed? 
A: Yes

Q: How do I purchase a DT3 cleaning tank to use with SUP706
A: Engatech can assist with the purchase of a DT3 cleaning tank.  Contact us today and we will get you a quote.

Fortus 900mc 3D Printer Gen II New Features

With the Fortus 900mc 3D printer you gain maximum throughput, repeatability, and durability for the demanding needs of the manufacturing floor.  And now this 3D printer just got even better. With recent upgrades on the Gen II you also get (at no additional cost):

 

  • Remote print monitoring with a new internal camera
  • Improved lighting inside for use with the camera
  • New Nylon 6 Material Option
  • Updated, rebust electrical system to meet latest standards
  • GrabCAD Print ready, which includes:
    • Job Reports
    • Scheduling
    • Remote print monitoring
  • Updated camera and job report options in Control Center software

Download Fortus 900mc Gen II 3D Printer Brochure >>

Fortus 900mc 3D Printer Gen II

Remote Monitoring Details
The new built-in camera lets you monitor your build from anywhere!

 

  • The image refreshes approximately once per minute (does not collect photos or provide any video)
  • Remote monitoring can be turned off to prevent viewing of confidential parts
    • System on/off feature
    • Insight software confidential flag
Fortus 900mc 3D Printer Gen II Camera View

Nylon 6 Material Overview
The Nylon family of polymers is one of the most widely used thermoplastics in traditional manufacturing.  Nylon 6 is specially formulated for FDM printing, delivering the right balance of Nylon 6 properties and ability to successfully print FDM parts. Advantages of FDM Nylon 6 include:

 

  • Best combination of strength and toughness among Stratasys FDM materials
    • Strength of Ultem 9085; >10k psi
    • Toughness of Nylon; .>15% elongation at break & >15ft-lb/in impact strength
  • Higher strength/stiffness and better appearance compared to Nylon 12
  • Can be used in a broad range of applications requiring high tensile strength
  • Enables repaid creation of functional prototypes and manufacturing aids with good impact strength.

Download Nylon 6 Material Brochure >>

Manufacturing Jig 3D Printing in FDM Nylon 6

FDM Fortus 900mc Materials Portfolio

CategoryFDM MaterialKey Characteristics
StandardABS-M30Verstile; tougher
ABS-M30iBiocompatible
ABS-ESD7Static dissipative
ASAUV stable
EngineeringNylon 12Toughness
Nylon 6Tough and Strong
PC-ABSDurable (impact)
PCStrong (tension)
PC-ISOBiocompatible
High
Performance
Ultem 9085Mechanically well-rounded; FST certification
Ultem 1010High stregth & low CTE
PPSFGood thermal and chemical resistance
ST130Sacrificial tooling material

3D Printing and Surgery Today

Written by Aaron Minard

A 3-D printing revolution has seamlessly altered manufacturing, prototyping, and design processes for countless industries from space exploration to the operating room.   Part of this transformation has resulted in the potential for improved surgical outcomes.

This potential was realized by a Houston mother whose daughter was diagnosed with transposition of the great vessels that required an emergency operation.  With a business background in the 3-D printing industry and the support and enthusiasm of pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons, Anne Garcia founded the non-profit “OpHeart”.  The mission of OpHeart is to place 3-D printed technology in the hands of pediatric cardiac surgeons to improve surgical outcomes in the lives of children.

Dr. Redmond Burke, Director of Cardiovascular Surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, aptly suggested that “You can’t give someone a piece of paper with a picture of a rubrics cube on it and say “How do you solve this?” You have to hold that three dimensional object in your hands and then come up with a solution.”  Burke goes on to explain that 3D printing technology “..helped take someone from being inoperable to operable. And we saved their life.” 3-D printing technology affords surgeons the ability to hold, examine, plan, and practice their procedure on a patient specific model prior to entering the OR.

3-D printed models are also being utilized by Memorial Hermann Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons in the Texas Medical Center for facial reconstructive surgery.  Raw CT data is sent to Materialise, a company that created software known as “Mimics” which converts the CT data to a format understood by the 3-D printer.  A patient specific model is then printed and an accurate model of the facial deformity, tumor, or injury is provided to the surgeon.

After the surgeons receive the 3-D printed models, they are used as a guide to contour titanium implants to reconstruct the framework of a face.  This allows surgeons to perform and perfect their intended surgery outside of the OR on a model prior to engaging in complex facial reconstruction.  Dr. Jonathon Jundt, an Assistant Professor and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center stated that, “The ability to pre-bend plates prior to surgery can save hours of time in the OR.  Before 3-D models were available, complex three-dimensional bending of titanium implants were done by hand in the OR while the patient remained under general anesthesia.  Now, most titanium implant contouring is done before the patient sets foot in the OR.”  Both hospitals and patients benefit from shorter and more accurate procedures in the OR.  In some cases, additional corrective surgeries may be avoided by precisely realigning facial bones during the initial reconstruction.

While the current process of outsourcing the conversion of CT data to a 3-D printable format and the creation of a 3-D printed model is a useful resource, the timeframe for submitting the data and receiving the models can be lengthy.  In order to reduce time and streamline model generation, some surgeons have elected to incorporate 3-D printing technology within their hospitals.  One such hospital, the Salisbury District Hospital, acquired a Stratasys Objet 3-D printer and has utilized this technology extensively in their Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery division.

See a video highlighting their story here:

Given the positive affirmation by surgeons in multiple specialties on the advantages of utilizing 3-D printing for patient care, it seems likely we’ll continue to hear even more stories about 3-D printing for medical applications in 2016.

Stratasys 3D Printers are Shaping the Future of Additive Manufacturing

Stratasys has once again redefined what a 3D printer is capable of by recently unveiling two new pieces of game changing additive manufacturing technology – the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrators and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator.

The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator is designed to address the demands of aerospace, automotive and other industries for large, lightweight thermoplastic parts with repeatable mechanical properties.  The system turns the traditional 3D printer concept on its side to realize an “infinite-build” approach which prints on a vertical plane for practically unlimited part size in the build direction.

The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator combines Stratasys advanced extrusion technologies with Siemens’ Motion Control hardware and PLM software. It’s designed to revolutionize the 3D printing of composite parts for transportation industries like Automotive and Aerospace, plus Oil & Gas and Medical applications. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator uses a unique 8-axis motion system that enables precise, directional material placement for strength while also reducing dramatically the need for speed-hindering support strategies. This redefines how future lightweight parts will be built, and provides a glimpse into how this technology could be used to accelerate the production of parts made from a wide variety of materials.

Want more information about Stratasys 3D printers?

We help companies utilize 3D printing to solve their biggest challengesWe support the mid south region including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, & Louisiana by providing, implementing, training, and supporting Stratasys 3D Printers and rapid prototyping services.

Ardumower – the Roomba for your lawn that is 3D printed

I ran across something that I am seriously considering printing – a 3D printed lawnmower that looks like a Roomba.  The mower is printed using a simple design and uses Arduino boards that are easily programmable.  I’m not a great programmer, but I am assured that the Arduino motor and board programming can be tackled by a beginner to do simple path and reset maneuvers.  The body and wheels and even the blade seems so simple and the looks of the mower, dare I say it – sideswipes you since it is kind of cute.  Of course it is a lawnmower, so remember that this “cute” also has a blade that cuts things with so appropriate caution should be taken when starting this project.

3D Printed Self Guiding Lawnmover

I ran across the notations on the Ardumower on several websites and the concept was developed by a German aeronautical engineer (there is definitely a pun or two here; rocket scientist cuts a new path, or even rocket scientist mows down traditional lawnmower, etc., etc., etc.)

Andreas Haeuser has several designs that he has done in 3D printing, but the lawnmower really caught my attention.  Perhaps it is because I really hate mowing in 100 degree plus heat during the summer or maybe because I like the idea of building a tool that saves me labor by using a 3D printer.  The best of both worlds – cool 3D printed application and saves me sweat and time – looks like a winner of a project.

In looking for some YouTube videos of the mower running, I discovered that there is a whole group of remote control and automatic lawnmowers out there that have been 3D printed. Some of the designs look a little iffy for the tough conditions demanded by my large yard, and most require the perimeter wire method of controlling the area to be used.  However, there are some users that just simply put down a couple of 2” by 4” boards across areas where they don’t want the mowers to go and set the devices for bump and change direction to get the lawn cut.

3D Printed Self Guiding Lawnmover

These mowers are supposed to do the work while they relax.  Note that paths that the mowers cut is a bit more random that you get with a human powered mower, but since they are supposed to do the mowing a few times during the week, the patterns are trimmed out as the mowers work over time.

Some designs use metal blades that they get from hardware stores but I like the idea of using a 3D printed blade with the hope of avoiding cutting off my sprinkler system heads in some areas that the surrounding dirt has been washed out by the downpours in the area recently.  And I think that I can use a printed blade that has some weight reduction features to cut down on the amount of materials used while actually giving the blade better reinforcements and impact resistance.

My husband, who patiently nods his head at most of my ideas on things that we could print, got interested in this application and actually made the inquiry of how much materials it would take and how many parts we would have to print to make one.  So, I think that he is considering the merits of experimenting.  But in the meantime, I’ll hang onto the riding mower and put off that purchase of the hand mower just so he can buy into the concept…

If you would like to see more information on similar lawnmowers done with 3D printers – visit YouTube and see the videos (there are over 200 of them) regarding: “3d printed automatic lawnmowers”  If you would like to learn more about one of the most popular printers to do these type of lawnmower parts and more, visit our website at www.engatech.com/products.   I would suggest taking a look at the uPrint and the Dimension1200es machines as well as imagining all the things that you could do with a printer.

Lincoln In Life –  3D Model

Lincoln In Life – 3D Model

I am always on the lookout for 3D printing in unusual situations and in conjunction with National Maker’s Week this past week; I was looking at the Smithsonian’s 3D printing site.  I have to say there are definitely some things that I want to print out from the site including fossils, statues and more.  But what most intrigued me was a 3D rendering of Abraham Lincoln.

The Smithsonian has two life masks of Lincoln that were donated by the families of Clark Mills, a sculptor form the 1800s.  The family donated a casting of the “life mask” of Lincoln to the Smithsonian in 1811, and this particular mask was done shortly before Lincoln’s 56th birthday in 1865.  Life masks were a common practice done in the mid 1800s to showcase the face of a living person.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 12.03.00 AM

Lincoln always strived to be visible to the public during his time in office, and this is shown in the worry lines and gaunt features in the mask.

What was interesting to me was how my reactions to this type of portrait of this incredible leader were very intense.  I am used to seeing pictures and paintings of the great leader who had such an important role in American history, but I had not seen the 3D scan of the President before.  The 3D scan made him very human, very tired and very real to me.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 12.03.16 AM

Looking at the picture of the scan, I thought of my own grandpa.  He shared Lincoln’s bony features and somewhat tired demeanor and I thought about how the Civil War must have changed Lincoln in so many ways.  Compare the look on this 1865 mask to one that was done earlier in Lincoln’s life.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 12.03.23 AM

Volk was a sculptor who was doing a statue of Douglas and wanted a “matcher” for Lincoln after the famous debates.   Lincoln sat for Volk in 1860 when his political star was rising but prior to his run for President.   For a week, he went to Volk’s studio and sat for a plastic casting to be made of his face, in between court dates where he was the attorney working.  This was before he rose up to be a national politician and had not been nominated for a presidential candidacy.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 12.03.30 AM

In five years, Lincoln aged so much.  The above image is a 1917 copy from a bronze casting given to the Smithsonian in 1888.

I encourage you to explore the site at http://3d.si.edu/browser and find out a bit about the models and technology.  There are STL files to download and information to be shared.  Check on the last view in the series below – so life like.

What do Tinker Toys and 3D printing have in common?

I’m been a bit nostalgic for my days of relative leisure as a child with building blocks,  Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and what came to me was that I’ve always been a maker in my heart.  My all-time favorite toy growing up was Tinker Toys and spent hours upon hours with the stocks and couplers making everything from full size pedal cars to fantastical wings and buildings.  I didn’t’ have rules on what I could build and what it was supposed to look like, but all in all, the structures went up, the cars were created and the “stuff” fueled my imagination and house with all sorts of objects.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.54.35 PMI grew, and in a few years graduated to my first industrial arts course in junior high and the joy of drafting.  Mr. Murray was a great teacher as we  $learned about the details of drafting, how to show hidden features, putting down to paper an isometric view in addition to standard front, side and top and if needed back view.  He explained us the need for careful notations on scale and units, as well as how to add details and views on features that needed an “exploded” inset drawing or even an additional drawing.  I loved that class with all the things that we did ranging from drafting to fabricating plastics parts  (I still have the acrylic candle holders and console bowl I made) as well as leatherwork, simple soldering and more. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.54.53 PMFrom industrial arts we moved up to vo-tech classes in high school which at that time were a required series of courses that all students in the high school took.  Ranging from welding to typing and culinary arts, those courses help many of us have part time jobs in college and after school as well as kept our education grounded into the workforce.  I thank heavens every day for a well-rounded education in my small town and the dedicated teachers I met.  I actually used my set of Tinker Toys to make a model for a public speaking class once.  But, when my parents were cleaning out the misc. items before they moved to what would be their last home, the Tinker Toys finally were given away to another family with children.  I didn’t think much about it then, but I missed those worn sticks and wooden round couplers years later when I was trying to explain a design with an interior feature to a co-worker.  By then, CAD was mainstream to manufacturing and everyone had abandoned drafting and the drawing for electronic files and 3D views.

But then the reality of always using an electronic drawing came home to mass production – mistakes happen.  Hidden problems were not as apparent in an electronic drawing or even a 2D hard copy drawing without having a physical model in hand.  Hence the 1st article requirement was born.  The 1st article was required on many projects where a physical part had to be produced first before high volume mass production could start.  Hugely expensive, since the production part had to be tooled up, the 1st article became the dreaded stop to development and commercialization in many new parts because of the delays and the resulting “engineering changes” after the review.  I remember the anxious days of review and holding my breath as a committee looked over, measured, evaluated and then signed off.  As an engineer and application specialist, I used to hope that marketing didn’t review because they ALWAYS wanted more bells and whistles.  The additional features from marketing meant an engineering change, more time, retooling and drove the tool costs to the sky.

Then prototypes using SLA, SLS, FDM, urethane castings, and more came about.  Design reviews were so much easier and collaborative manufacturing became the normal mode for new projects.  Reviews of what the part would look like, how to tool for features that could be a problem, agreeing on designs, compromises on details – all of these areas of communicating and review prior to high volume production were now enabled and normal.  We took sturdy prototype parts beyond design reviews to functional testing for wind, handles them in focus groups for marketing, used them in trade show mock-ups, traveled with them for sales samples, and took 3D Printing with hybrid manufacturing/machining into new territory where legacy tech and new tech made money.   

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.55.07 PMEnter the Maker Movement – where people wanted the power to make pieces and to indulge their imagination by making a physical part using 3D printing.  A whole new group of participants got to use tech and creativity to do one off designs, creating new ways to satisfy needs and manufacturing low volume product without expensive tooling.  Those opportunities have continued to grow and printers for the hobbyist continue expand.  You only have to look at Kickstarter, attend a Makerfaire to see so many low cost Maker Printers.  In the meantime, The President includes 3D printing as an emerging technology and the industrial arena sees prototyping and design verification via 3D printing is now being  required by many industries and markets.

But to me, it all really started with that cylinder box of Tinker Toys.  We created, we built, we tore it up and rebuilt and then we did all over again with Tinker Toys.  That low tech that we never saw as a path forger would evolve to a 3D printer used today.  Overall, the basic purpose still remains the same between the Tinker Toys box and the 3D printer – to express what we can imagine with a physical part.

And you know what – I never really did outgrow Tinker Toys.   Occasionally I’ll see some at a garage sale and you can’t help but start messing with the pieces.   And just like 3D printing, you can’t help but think about what you want to do with the technology.

Doing plant tours – why we all love to see other people’s stuff and how they do things

Doing plant tours – why we all love to see other people’s stuff and how they do things

Engatech hosted a plant tour and presentation at the Coleman Associates/HTC site on the 10th in Houston Texas. The event was full with standing room only.  That led me to think about other times we have done “outside” events and reflect on trade group meetings where we have done plant tours.  Overwhelmingly, plant tours are the most popular event that local interest groups hold.  Having gone to my fair share of them, I wanted to get some background on why we all frock to going thru a plant with a group when we wouldn’t be caught in the same room with many of the attendees at these events on a normal day.  So let’s go over some of the science behind this.

Per the Harvard Business Review, in general there are three reasons people like to take plant tours.
“There are three primary reasons for taking a tour: to learn, to assess, and to teach. Although those objectives overlap to some degree, they lead to very different types of tours. Learning tours are undertaken by people who believe that an operation has a feature or an ability that is valuable; they want to find out precisely what that ability is and how it works. Most often, the goal of a learning tour is to bring back the knowledge acquired on the tour to replicate the capability. Assessment tours are undertaken to determine how well a plant is doing either along an important dimension of performance or in terms of its ability to fulfill its role in the company’s operations strategy. Teaching tours are undertaken to pass knowledge from the visitor to the plant being toured. The three types of tours demand different questions and focus on different parts of the site.”  (Upton, Harvard Business Review.)

The most plant tours are the one where I go to a plant to learn about a capability and to interface with knowledgeable experts at that site.  This allows me to determine whether the technology is something that I want to consider without identifying myself as a prime target for a pitch.  It is a relatively risk free way to doing a “look see” without having to interface with a company’s sales department or give away too much information when I am evaluating.  The same reason that I take plant tours applies to why I go to the Texas State Fair and look at cars (for out of state readers – trust me on this one.  If you go to the State Fair of Texas, which is the largest state fair in the USA, you want to see the car displays.)  By going to a “display” I can see the tech, access the information in a risk free environment where I am a part of the crowd, and get to find out more info and even ask questions without being singled out.
So why does being part of a group seem popular in assessing tech?  Because you can ask tough questions and the answers are perceived by the recipient as being less biased and more truthful in a group setting away from the “sales call.”  I can ask by-standers and other attendees their opinion, perhaps even get some insight that I can’t get from the literature or a website.  Often I can gather tribal knowledge about tips and techniques on hardware or in use processes on the plant floor from tours plus get to observe the comfort of the operators when they are using the tech or software.  Plus I can do this without as much of an influence from the vendor on what answers I am being given or what I observe.

This shift goes along with the shift in sales development seen during the past 10 years as internet searches become the preferred means of gathering information versus face to face meetings and trade group conferences.  Going to a plant tour offers a chance to go behind the scenes a bit to find out how the tech works in real life and get reviews from users all at once.  The current thinking about the sales process is that prospects have gotten over 80% of the information used in making a buy prior to the final transaction and the trade show, showcase, plant tour and internet search are all part of the prior research.  Prospects now are better informed, have a better idea of the features and benefits prior to a sales call, and want specifics on performance, pricing and solutions before they interface on a one to one basis with a sales professional.

To get in touch with our sales professionals – look at our website and call our offices.  866-499-7500 or contact sales@engatech.com.  We do our homework so you don’t have to worry about all the details.  With our local base and community ties, we understand the local manufacturing environment, issues, and want to help.

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