Using FDM to transform the production line in Japan

3D Printing, and more specifically FDM, has transformed operations at one of our production facilities in Tohoku, Japan.

Production printer assembly consists of many individual components which means it is critical that operators handle, collect and construct parts efficiently. This can be challenging given the number of assembly processes involved, especially for new workers.

At Ricoh, we follow a ‘Kaizen’ philosophy, the Japanese term for continuous improvement, meaning that we constantly strive to improve our daily processes, in both the production operation and all areas of the business.

In the assembly of Ricoh’s large-scale commercial printers, we had reached the limit of Kaizen and what could be improved using traditional methods. In order to increase productivity, we began to consider new approaches and, in particular, the opportunities that fdm and 3D printing presented. This is how the concept of a moveable workstation came to life.

Firstly, metal jigs were replaced with lightweight plastic alternatives, reducing the weight by an average of 95% and decreasing cost by 30%. The ability to produce shapes that are difficult or impossible with traditional methods meant we could print jigs with clear instructions and use colour coding to make the production process ‘fool proof’, enabling new workers to pick up the assembly process much quicker than before.

For example, parts in a yellow bin are assembled with a yellow marked tool. This allows for workstations to be configured in order of usage, so that they are self-explanatory and the production process is more efficient.

This new way of designing production lines has enabled the use of moveable workstations, as the jigs are lighter and can be pushed safely by operators.

Haizen (part supply) stations and moveable workstations are interlinked, meaning sub-assembly operations can be done with minimum movement. Previously the working area was fixed and operators would travel in order to collect parts before assembling them on dedicated workstations.

The simple use of colour coding has ensured quality, meaning third party inspection processes are no longer required.

“3D printing is not about denying or replacing existing production methods. For Ricoh 3D, it is most powerful when used to enhance technologies in areas such as machining and assembly which ultimately achieves higher productivity.”

Katsumi Hirama – Director, Production Innovation Center, Ricoh Industry Company Ltd

For small series manufacture 3D printing will continue to be an extremely effective tool to optimise production, both for Ricoh 3D operations and in the learning we pass on to our customers.