The 3D printed injection mould, for the production of a rim block for Unilever’s Domestos product range
The Italian division of international consumer goods giant, Unilever, says it has cut lead times for prototype parts by 40 percent since introducing 3D printing technology into its manufacturing process.
By utilising 3D printed injection moulding tools from Stratasys Ltd, the company says it is now able to produce prototype parts in the final material for functional and consumer tests “significantly faster” than by using traditional tooling methods.
Unilever, which owns brands such as Surf, Comfort, Hellmanns and Domestos, is using a Stratasys Objet500 Connex Multi-material 3D Production System to produce injection mould tools for its household care and laundry goods divisions, with a run of around 50 units for a wide variety of prototype parts such as bottle caps and closures and toilet rim blocks.
“[Using] Stratasys 3D printing technology, we can design and print a variety of injection moulds for different parts that can undergo functional and consumer testing, all on the same day,” explained Stefano Cademartiri, R&D, CAD and Prototyping Specialist at Unilever.
“Before, we would have to wait several weeks to receive prototype parts using our traditional tooling process; not only would this lengthen lead times, it would also increase costs if iterations were required. With 3D printing we’re now able to apply design iterations to the mould within a matter of hours, enabling us to produce prototype parts in final materials such as polypropylene, 40 percent faster than before.”
Unilever 3D prints its injection mould tools in Stratasys’ Digital ABS – a material renowned for its high temperature resistance and toughness, making it ideal for injection moulding applications. “By 3D printing the injection moulds in Digital ABS, we’re able to retain the high quality associated with traditional manufactured prototypes, while also enduring the high temperatures and pressures of the injection moulding machine, at a significantly reduced cost and turnaround time,” Cademartiri continued.
Unilever also produces thermoforming mould prototypes on its FDM-based Fortus 360mc 3D Production System, using ABS-M30 production-grade plastic. This, says Stratasys, enables the company to produce realistic moulds with flexible strength that can also endure functional testing, crucial in developing the final thermoforming mould.
“Having previously outsourced our thermoforming requirements, we found that we were accumulating significant labour costs and having to contend with lengthy lead times,” added Cademartiri. “However, since 3D printing these parts ourselves, we’ve reduced lead times in the conceptual phase by approximately 35 percent. The technology has enhanced our overall manufacturing process, allowing us to evaluate our designs quickly and eliminate those that are not suitable, before committing significant investment towards mass production.”
Nadav Sella, Senior Manager, Manufacturing Tools, at Stratasys, added: “We are seeing a growing trend among our customers to leverage our additive manufacturing systems as a manufacturing tool for a wide range of applications, in addition to direct prototyping. With the development of some of our recent, more durable materials, our customers can now enjoy flexibility in their choice of methods to create their manufacturing tools and test designs in their final production materials, before investing in costly metal tools.”