April 26, 2017

3D Printing Solutions in the Automotive Electronics Industry

HGM Automotive Electronics develops and manufactures control systems that transform vehicles with manual transmission into automatic. From hotrods to hybrids to heavy trucking vehicles, HGM is a global leader designing custom aftermarket automotive electronics.

Automotive manufacturers typically produce parts in quantities ranging from 10,000 – millions at a time. Companies like HGM specialize in custom manufacturing in lower volumes. Custom development, from prototyping to testing, is essential and often as costly as what is required for much larger production runs. Precision and accuracy before production begins is paramount.

Guy Cardwell, Engineering Director at HGM, began the search for a 3D printer to increase the efficiency of their pre-production processes and safeguard financial risks associated with manufacturing prototypes. The MakerGear M2 first caught Cardwell’s attention because of its well-rated construction and record of reliability.

He says, “A stiffer frame, high quality components, and linear bearings mean good dimensional accuracy, so our CAD models match the final product.”

In addition, knowing his team could depend on the M2 to print production parts 24/7 was key in his decision to introduce MakerGear into their workflow. 

Other key features, such as the wide range of nozzle temperatures which allow for printing in a wide variety of materials, and the fact that the printer is ready to print right out of the box, convinced him that the MakerGear M2 was the right printer for them.

MakerGear in the Mix

One way that HGM leverages their MakerGear 3D printer is to produce custom fixtures and tooling for each sub-assembly.  This in turn reduces setup and testing time, as well as tooling costs. Because all components must be programmed and rigorously tested, HGM is able to reduce production time and costs without sacrificing its strict quality control standards.

Cardwell says, “With traditional, subtractive machining techniques, the fastest turnaround would be several days even with the best service, and would cost us $500 - $1000. With our MakerGear M2, each custom fixture takes about 2 hours and $3 of material to produce.”  Cardwell goes on to say, “We’ve got a full machine shop; I could do all of this without 3D printing, it’s just not cost effective. My time is important to me, and with 3D printing I can achieve immense time and cost savings by avoiding cutting plastic, placing the part in a vice, running expensive equipment, and tool changes.”

   

And because they are able to 3D print built-to-spec samples to send to manufacturing partners, HGM is able to ensure that the first production run produces exactly what they need. Their 3D printed prototypes allow for qualitative and quantitative analysis with regard to look and feel, dimensional accuracy and fitting, all before any substantial investment is made. According to Cardwell, they’ve rapidly paid off their initial investment. It’s a win for HGM and a win for their customers, as well.

Success Through Innovation

Cardwell also believes his MakerGear M2 is stimulating innovation within his company. When there is less to lose by experimentation, it fosters new ideas and new successes. He says, “3D printing introduced an element of safety to my business in that it allows our team to pursue new opportunities without taking huge risks.”


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