The Decentralized SmartFactory - SD3D Printing
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The Decentralized SmartFactory

Case Study on the Impact of Merging 3D Printing with IoT

IoT is becoming a familiar solution to consumers looking to enjoy a modern SmartHome experience. However, being able to automate lights and HVAC systems in your home through your smartphone is just scraping the surface of the true power of IoT. Applying these systems to drive metrics and automations on the commercial and industrial level provide much deeper value to the overall economy by reaching new levels of net process efficiencies that have never been realized. Through the nature of capitalism, these benefits trickle-down throughout the economy and are ultimately felt by nearly everyone in society.

Photo: Mobinius — Industry 4.0 and IoT

The story and promise of 3D printing is similar. While consumer brands have garnered the majority of media coverage in the 3D printing industry over the last several years, it is actually the commercial and industrial additive manufacturing applications which are proving to be much more disruptive to the overall economy. From medical applications to long-tail inventory coverage to enabling production of complex parts for the aerospace industry, 3D printing has found a multitude of critical applications in the commercial and industrial sectors which provide enormous benefit to society.

This case study discusses the merger of these two technologies at the commercial scale, reflecting the data we (SD3D) have gathered through operations at our 3D printing production facilities in San Diego, CA and Dallas, TX. Throughout this case study we will be discussing and providing data based on the current state of development which is ongoing and improving daily.

Starting in San Diego, we placed a multi-sensor inside of our eight printer rack enclosure to record the frequency of hitting temperature swings in excess of one degree from hour to hour. Large temperature swings increase the likelihood of production defects on FDM printers, particularly when using materials with high shrinkage rates such as ABS and PC.

As you can see in Chart 1, 74% of these high temperature swing recordings occur between the hours of 6am and 6pm. This is also the window of peak-energy use hours for SDG&E, the providers of our electricity in San Diego. Meaning, our baseline electricity cost during those hours increases by up to 50%, with additional fees tacked on based on our peak usage during that window. Because of this, we now opt to print with low temperature – low shrinkage materials such as PLA during the day and transition the production line to higher energy, higher shrinkage materials at night when energy is cheaper and the facility temperatures are more stable.

Excessive Temperature Swings by Time of Day

Chart 1. San Diego Temperature Swings Greater than 1° F

Over the last year we saved 32% on our electricity bills by transitioning our material usage based on energy cost and environmental stability while simultaneously shaving peak energy inflection points by reducing the power draw of auxiliary equipment such as our HVAC system, fans, dehumidifiers, etc. For us that meant a net savings of approximately $2,688 last year across a dozen active 3D printers on a 1,400 square foot production floor. As we scale up production to 100 printers between our Dallas and San Diego facilities, this IoT integration provides an estimated savings of approximately $25,000 per year in electricity bills alone.

Another unique aspect in which we have applied IoT to our factory floor in San Diego is the implementation of air quality control. Prior to implementing any air quality control measures, the concentration of ultrafine particles (UFP) was tested at multiple locations at our facility.

Chart 2: UFP Concentration Inside and Outside San Diego Production Facility – No filter

What this showed us is that the concentrations of harmful particles was extremely high inside of the printer rack and on the factory floor, but leveled off quickly as you near the entrance of the building. At it’s peak concentration inside of the printer rack, it was essentially the equivalent of walking around a densely congested six lane freeway at rush hour.

To improve the safety conditions in our work environment, we implemented a dual stage HEPA filtration system that circulates the air inside of the printer rack and captures the harmful particles in the filter. Afterwards we conducted the study again and found that particle levels inside of the rack fell to acceptable levels within 60 seconds of turning on the filter. To preserve the life of the filter and reduce energy usage we implemented IoT automations to only turn the filtration system on if someone is present on the factory floor. This has improved the life of the filters by approximately 4x and saves us $462 per year in replacement filter costs when compared to running the system continuously.

HEPA Filter Stage 1 Intake
HEPA Filter Stage 2 Exhaust
Dedicated IoT Controller for Each Printer
Networked sensors inside and outside of the rack trigger the filtration unit

Image 1. 3D Printer Rack Dual Stage HEPA Filtration System

So without even touching the improvements we have made to 3D printing specific processes, we have shown a net savings of $3,150 per year by implementing these general IoT automations throughout our San Diego facility to reduce energy and maintenance costs. Extrapolating this rate, we estimate a net savings on energy and maintenance of $26,250 per year across our upcoming 100 printer facility in Dallas.

The next step we took was to develop the data structure required to turn an FDM 3D printer into an IoT device capable of communicating bi-directionally with other devices on the factory floor and utilizing a centralized database to perform networked machine learning. For this we developed the Filtracker plugin for Octoprint and worked with the IoT experts at Locbit to develop a SCADA application capable of implementing 3D printing specific automations on our factory floor.

The Filtracker plugin streamlines the 3D printing workflow by automatically slicing and printing files with the proper settings for the material that is currently loaded on the printer. This workflow is further optimized by tracking print success rates network-wide and fine-tuning material profile settings based on historical data. This effectively removes the requirement of manually slicing each job that gets sent through our sales automation platform – Printelize. We have also demonstrated the connection of Printelize to Filtracker allowing direct pass through of job files to properly configured printers upon satisfying a specific job status (ie. approved and/or paid).

By coupling these 3D printing specific IoT process automations with our non-destructive auto ejection module, we have been able to show a net labor cost reduction in excess of 86%. For us that amounts to an approximate annual cost savings opportunity of $45,000 per year in San Diego. 

Watch our Continuous Autonomous Printing (CAP) Process

These savings will become even more significant as we continue to build out our 100 printer production facility in Dallas. This build-out is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. The estimated savings impact from these proprietary 3D printing IoT integration efforts in the 2019 fiscal year is approximately $375,000 per year.

In summary, as of 2019 we expect to achieve a net savings of over $400,000 per year in operational costs by implementing these energy savings and process improvements onto our 3D printing production lines in Dallas and San Diego. This will allow us to offer even lower pricing for high volume 3D printing production, pushing additive manufacturing into new applications that are not currently economically viable.

Perhaps most exciting is realizing that we are still in the early days of merging IoT with 3D printing and while this case study covers the current state of development, these integrated systems are rapidly improving on a daily basis. We are endeavoring into a new chapter of industrialization in which each and every enterprise in the world can now benefit from implementing automated 3D production lines providing just-in-time production of on-demand parts. The most disruptive implementations of this new Industry 4.0 are undoubtedly yet to come.