Eaton announced that its Vehicle Group is implementing a new 3D metal-printing program as a part of its Industry 4.0 strategy to reduce development time and improve efficiency. The first metal printer system was installed at its Kings Mountain, N.C., facility, and a global deployment of 3D polymer printing technology is slated to be completed by first-quarter 2021. The 3D printers are being utilized to create high-quality fixtures, safety devices, automation grippers for assembly and handling, and maintenance components requiring replacement. Prototype development is following the same strategy to support faster product-development trials and improve efficiency.

To speed up the design process, scanners are used to create 3D models of existing components. This process allows components to be reverse-engineered to better leverage 3D-printing capabilities, including changing component design to use less material, adding different topography elements or consolidating multiple components into a single part. 3D-printing technology adds material only where it is needed and allows more advanced designs to be developed. These two factors reduce the amount of post-processing operations needed while reducing material cost.