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Third Dimension

Tigercat is increasingly turning to 3D printing technology to streamline design and prototyping processes.

— Chris McMillan

In 1971, a man named Johannes Gottwald filed for a patent on an invention he called a Liquid Metal Recorder. This was the first machine to perform what would later be referred to as rapid prototyping, and is now known as 3D printing.

The term 3D printing could describe a number of different processes where a threedimensional object is created by depositing a material in layers, controlled by a computer. The material could be plastic, liquid, or powder that is heated and hardens instantly. In general, one of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce complex shapes, hollow shapes, and parts with weight-reducing internal truss structures.

During the 1980s, the technology was employed for creating prototype parts to check for suitability. By 2019, the speed and quality of the printing machines had advanced to the point where manufacturers were using 3D printing to create production parts. We are now at the stage where the terms 3D printing and additive manufacturing are essentially interchangeable.

Tigercat purchased two different sized 3D printers in 2018. Since then, utilization of the printers has more than doubled. Today, the printers run most days, working on various projects for the engineering groups.

Prototype parts

When the printers were purchased, the intent was to create models of prototype parts – to test functionality and to provide the look and feel that you just can’t get from looking at a model on a screen. Once the design was finalized, the designers could then source traditional manufacturing methods.

A good example of this is a joystick control handle. When designing the control handles for the 1165 harvester, product designer Rauri Olsen made use of the printer to produce actual samples of each iteration. Getting feedback from fellow designers, field staff and end users, he was then able to fine tune the design for maximum comfort and useability. Rauri explains, “Being able to print new design concepts quickly allowed us to get immediate feedback and make adjustments as required. I was able to improve each iteration and test concepts that were suggested by operators and the engineering team. This made it possible to have a completely custom solution that would have taken much longer to get to via traditional methods or just trying to visualize it.”

Production parts

It takes time to source vendors, who may in turn be required to manufacture tooling. In some cases, pre-production or production parts can be printed in the meantime, allowing Tigercat to bring products to market more quickly. When a plastic machine part is required for low volume production, engineers balance out time and cost to determine the feasibility of printing in-house. This has been done with various interior cab parts.

Molds and fixtures

Many parts used in cab interiors are created using vacuum forming. Vacuum forming is a process that uses vacuum pressure to form heated plastic to the shape of a mold. By utilizing a special highstrength heat resistant printing material, these vacuum molds can be printed in-house, allowing Tigercat to realize time and cost savings compared with traditional machining processes.

3D printing and additive manufacturing is helping to propel Tigercat’s product development and prototyping so that product improvements and new models can reach the market more quickly, and with greater confidence in terms of performance and fitness of use.

Steve Crosby, vice president manufacturing comments, “3D capabilities complement, enhance and augment our manufacturing capabilities. Whether we need to test a product or process, build a complex part, or expedite a design, we can often turn to our 3D printers as viable, cost-effective tools with quick turnaround.”

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