Tennessee, United States
17-4 PH Stainless Steel
Tooling and Fixtures
Nichirin is a world leader in the sale and manufacture of automotive hoses, as well as motorcycle/ATV hoses and other industrial rubber products. Founded in 1914, the company now has production facilities around the world. Faced with unfavorable market conditions, Nichirin invested in the Markforged platform in 2019 to help reduce their operating costs. They quickly identified two components of the assembly line that could be replaced by 3D printed applications. Both had considerable business impact, and presented a huge opportunity.
The bracket assembly jigs Nichirin fabricated hold the brackets to be bolted onto brake hoses, which are used to attach the hoses to a vehicle. Originally, they were designed in CAD and conventionally machined, costing roughly 800 USD a unit, with a two- to four-week lead time. Meanwhile, Nichirin's conventionally-machined brazing jigs see 800 to 900 cycles each day and need replacing every few months, requiring them to stock excess inventory upwards of 15,000 USD.
Since the tools are only needed in relatively low volumes, the incremental setup time required for each part eats up labor and capital. They're costly to carry in inventory, have to endure a lot of abuse on the production floor, and have complex geometries that are difficult to manufacture. When using the bracket assembly jigs, the positions of the brackets along the contours of the brake hose are particularly critical. The brazing jigs must be very closely fitted to allow the filler metal to flow between parts by capillary action alone. They're also exposed to a significant heat, and must have a higher melting point than the filler metal.
Using the Markforged platform, Nichirin's engineers designed and tested fit and function of new designs with 3D printed versions in continuous fiber-reinforced Onyx. By taking advantage of the design flexibility offered by the platform, they can reduce the number of components necessary to manufacture these parts; their bracket assembly jigs, for example, used to require four machined components. Now they only need one printed part. Final versions, printed in 17-4PH Stainless Steel, are easily able to handle the necessary stresses.
Nichirin has dramatically reduced the operating and inventory costs of stocking these components. The Markforged-printed brazing jig on the manufacturing floor has already outrun and outlasted the conventionally manufactured counterpart three times over. Their engineers are investigating 3D printing the brazing jig in Inconel 625 for greater dimensional stability in elevated temperatures.