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Farason Corporation Application Spotlight: Small Package Container

For over thirty years, Farason Corporation has designed and delivered custom automation and robotics systems to manufacturers, shipping over 900 machines to North America, Asia, South America and Europe. The Farason team added Markforged 3D printers to boost design and production opportunities, aligned with Farason’s commitment to delivering one-of-a-kind solutions that are closely tailored to specific challenges their customers face. The Farason Coporation designed custom 3D Printed small package containers used to collect and transport products.

Stein Part printed in Onyx®

The Challenge

Farason faced a challenge when a prominent American snack food company needed a custom solution to address small package collecting and transport for their cheeseball products, when all conventional solutions had already been considered and rejected. The heart of the challenge are the products themselves: “the nature of the bags, with static, non-uniform edges, and low mass,” Design Support Engineer, Christian Weder said.   "It’s hard to get all these pieces into a box.”

The Farason Corporation team came up with an unusual idea, one that inverts the packing process, one that the team affectionately calls the “stein” project because it involves a robot lifting a tall container, and pushing out the items with a movement that looks like someone pouring out a beer stein. But with the idea in hand, the novelty of their solution was where they hit the first difficulty. As Engineer Richard Cook described, “the designers couldn’t get anybody to buy into it.” It was an unusual approach that led some of the team to quickly dismiss it as crazy. “They said ‘Why don’t you just do X’,” Richard remembers.

“But, well, X is what the customer didn’t want us to do, because they had already tried it and they knew it didn’t work. I looked at the idea and thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of novel. I think I could probably make that work.’” Proving this was the best idea to advance to the customer would come down to the R&D team fully concepting the idea to demonstrate that this approach might win the contract.

But before they tackled the concepts, they had to address a second difficulty. The idea proposed would require a set of custom containers to collect the small products, unusual designs with very specific requirements. No existing on-hand container would do for testing how the robot would handle the object, and if the issue with the very light packages would be resolved.

The only way to know for sure would be to prototype creating these original designs in-house. According to Farason, custom containers and transport solutions tend to be expensive, far more than the tight $500 fabrication budget per container in the manufacturer’s requirements. The idea could work in principle and fail when evaluated for costs.

The greatest advantage of 3D printing this project was to be able to iterate that quickly. You can just keep iterating and aren’t forced to stop in your process, instead of waiting a week or a couple weeks for a part to come in. It keeps everything continuous.”
– Christian Weder, Design Support Engineer, Farason Corporation

The Solution

The Farason Corporation team quickly hit on the best way to resolve both difficulties at the same time: they would design the containers to be fabricated via 3D printing with their Markforged X7 using Markforged Onyx industrial 3D printing material. The same material and approach would also be the target production material for shipping the solution to the customer.

According to Christian Weder, “Weight savings and cost, obviously, are becoming more of a consideration for our main engineering design team. I think 3D printing fits so well with Farason just because of the way that we design. We tend to use a lot of really complicated machined parts, and that’s exactly the part that 3D printing replaces really well because it saves a lot of cost from setup time, machining time, and all that.”

Committing to additive manufacturing allowed the team to source an affordable PVC tube part for the walls of the container instead of a conventional cast PC part that exceeded the entire per-container budget. A series of 3D printed parts clamp the container assembly together and house all of the critical features for interfacing with other machines. This includes the positions for the magnets in the base to locate and hold onto the transport mechanism as well as the mounting position for the “handle” component the robot grabs onto in order to lift, swing, and dispense the items. An aluminum tie rod inserted through these parts links the printed components of the container column, running the entire length from the top to the bottom.

After proving the concept, the Farason Corporation team won the bid, and produced over 80 Small Package Containers. Their approach to design for additive manufacturing and “printability,” ensures that they can maintain and even continue to optimize them deployed in the field.

Markforged Advantages

  • Produce strong, production-ready parts in Onyx material.
  • Produce fully functional concepts affordably in-house during bidding processes.
  • Reduce demand on internal machine shop or budget for external fabrication services for bidding and concepting.

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