3D printing runs red hot for manufacturers of fire engines

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Stratasys Fortus 250mc 3D production system

One of the world’s largest fire truck outfitters is literally using additive manufacturing and 3D printing techniques day and night to produce prototypes and parts to service the fire appliances market.

The Stratasys Fortus 250mc 3D production system supplied by 3D printing specialist Tasman Machinery has allowed New Zealand company Fraser Engineering to shorten lead times from many months to a matter of days.

Lower Hutt-based Fraser Engineering is one of the largest machining shops in the country. The company provides design and machining services for a range of local industries that vary from architecture to switching gear. The company prides itself as a low volume and prototyping specialist.

In recent years, Fraser Engineering has moved into the fire truck and appliances industry with the acquisition of a business specialising in the field. The company now creates fully equipped fire trucks from the base chassis to suit a range of environments in New Zealand, Australia and neighbouring Pacific countries.

“All the components for the fire trucks are fitted in-house,” explains Fraser Engineering general manager Martin Simpson.

“We like to maintain control over the whole build, to ensure that our design is to specification. As a result of the various tools, parts and components that are made, it makes Fraser Engineering one of the largest in-house fire truck builders in the world.”

In order to be competitive, it is important that Fraser Engineering can turn around design and build in a short period of time – speed to market is a key priority for the company. To facilitate this the company has turned to additive manufacturing to produce parts and prototypes. The Stratasys Fortus 250mc supplied by 3D printer specialist Tasman Machinery has allowed Fraser Engineering to shorten lead times from many months to a matter of days.

“In the past, we would use a full range of CNC machines – lathes, turret punches, and press brakes – to produce parts and prototypes, but with the Fortus 250mc 3D production system, we can now have something ready in a matter of days. We can potentially go to testing stage overnight if we need. It is a much more cost-effective and efficient method of producing prototypes,” says Mr Simpson.

Fire trucks have a surprisingly large number of plastic components, such as components for the roller doors. Currently, Fraser Engineering is using the Fortus 250mc to produce as many as 100 units a day for the roller doors, with the machine often running overnight.

“In the past, the part would have been produced using an injection mould,” Mr Simpson explains.

“With injection moulding we would need to create the tool which can take a few months and many thousands of dollars. If the design should change then we would throw the tool away and start again. With the Fortus 250mc we can change the design very quickly and easily. Once the design is finalised and proven, then injection moulding can take over producing the larger volumes of the parts.”

The range and complexity of a fire truck is largely dependent on the environment in which it is used. Metropolitan trucks will often have equipment and framework suited to a range of situations ranging from chemical emergencies to car accidents, but on relatively easy terrain. Rural trucks may be faced with extremely hot, unpredictable bushfires and require all-wheel-drive.

The Fortus 3D production system has given Fraser Engineering the flexibility to produce parts to suit the vast range of specifications that cannot be produced using traditional machining processes. With an accuracy of 0.178mm, it has enabled Fraser to produce complex designs including delicate threads.

“We felt that the Fortus 250mc from Tasman Machinery was a well-built and well-designed machine. The world of additive manufacturing and 3D printing is evolving very quickly and the Fortus is up there with the best. It works well with the 3D CAD software we are using, so our designers can work directly with the machine. Tasman has a good reputation for leading technology in the area of additive manufacturing and their support has been excellent,” comments Mr Simpson.

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