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Auto Manufacturer Uses 3D Printer to Produce Custom Tooling -- Saving Tens of Thousands of Dollars

Dunlop Systems and Components has begun using a Markforged 3D printer to produce carbon fiber parts for tooling and electric cars -- and is saving nearly $50,000 a year in the process.

Dunlop Systems is a British automotive manufacturing company based just outside of Birmingham, specializing in Anti-Vibration Solutions including automotive air suspension components and electronic control systems for OEM and aftermarket vehicle applications.

Dunlop Systems and Components is changing the game with 3D printing -- from electric cars to in-house tooling.



The company had a lot of old machinery and in-house tooling that needed to be replaced frequently. Internal and customer tools were sent to a third-party toolmaker to make, however as a result of customer design changes, costs spiraled with not all costs recoverable.

Mark Statham, Production Engineering Manager at Dunlop Systems, is in charge of all the tooling used to make Dunlop's products. "You spend all that money and you wait two or three weeks for it to come in, and the customer then phones you up to tell you what they want changed," says Statham. Supplier time constraints was a constant issue, and Statham didn't want his team to be the bottleneck, so he set about looking for an alternative option.

Dunlop Systems and Components currently has a Markforged Mark Two printer, with plans to add an Industrial Series X7 printer.



The Solution

Statham attended a seminar about 3D printing where he heard about an industrial-grade 3D printer capable of printing in carbon fiber. He realized he could use it for tooling, as the material was strong enough to withstand corrosive environments. A top-level review of the opportunities outlined during the Markforged seminar took place and as a result Dunlop Systems purchased the 3D printer.

Since commissioning the machine, the team has found several applications for it use, from prototype parts for electric cars to gauges and molds. "I think it's opened up the mindset. We never say 'no we can't do it', it's now 'yes we can,'" explained Statham.

The team has replaced several parts with 3D printed parts using Markforged's Onyx material.



Onyx and continuous carbon fiber have been a perfect fit for the company, providing strong, lightweight parts that can be easily printed on the team's desktop printer.

"We're now in the process of replacing, where possible, all our tooling with Onyx," says Statham. Usually, the department spends around $25,000 on tooling alone. This year, they're only spending $14,000, thanks to additive manufacturing.

Dunlop Systems is using their Markforged composite printer to help bring an electric car to the market for a large automotive company. The electric car is currently out on the road with 3D printed Onyx prototype parts, and the custom 3D printed tooling has already been printed.

The necessary parts have come in significantly under budget with the use of their Markforged 3D printer. "Our department has almost got bragging rights, because we don't hold things up," added Statham. "So that's a bit of a bonus as well. We've already saved $24,000 in just six months, so we're on target to save $50,000 this year if we carry on this way."

Prototype tooling used to assemble the Electric Vehicle Suspension for an electric car the company is helping to produce.



Statham says another benefit of bringing additive manufacturing to Dunlop Systems has been the increased enthusiasm within the team. With no need to cut on costs while 3D printing parts, the department now has a quick turnaround for projects, and won't turn down a design challenge.

Since bringing Markforged technology in-house, Statham's department is now better respected on the plant floor. "People are seeing tooling coming onto the shop floor more frequently than they ever did," says Statham. "I think they've had more tooling in the last six months than in the last five years."

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