JC Steele Reinventing Manufacturing of Heavy Machinery and Tools with Large-Format Additive

BigRep digital solutions empowering production: 75% reduction in expenses and increased annual production by over 50%


Statesville (North Carolina), January 28th 2020 – One of today’s most innovative technologies is used to re-invent one of the oldest industrial techniques in the manufacturing of heavy machinery and tools. At JC Steele, a global leader in stiff extrusion machinery and solutions for customers in heavy clay, iron & steel, ferro alloys, and gypsum/wallboard, large-format Additive Manufacturing (AM) has been paired with traditional sand casting: The company is now using a BigRep ONE 3D printer to develop, test and create the delicate patterns needed for sand casting molds.

One-third sealing auger case pattern on BigRep machine (Photo courtesy of BigRep)
One-third sealing auger case pattern on BigRep machine (Photo courtesy of BigRep)

By implementing large-format AM, JC Steele has re-defined its production process from start to finish, optimizing design, development and patterning. As a result, the company has achieved a 75% cost reduction and a 50% faster time-to-production cycle. “Introducing AM into our production has greatly improved our operations,” says JC Steele’s Pattern Shop Supervisor, Chris Watts. “We have streamlined our workflow by eliminating those parts of the design process that are the longest, most fault-prone and expensive ones – the manual designing of a pattern, the interpretation of design drawings and the management of reductive waste.”

Clamped mold, ready for pouring (Photo courtesy of BigRep)
Clamped mold, ready for pouring (Photo courtesy of BigRep)

In the past, sand casting patterns had to be designed and created perfectly the very first time – as they could take up to a month to be recreated by hand in case of the slightest error, resulting in a longer time to market and higher costs. Introducing 3D printing to the production process has made it possible to develop and test multiple options to find the best-fit solutions. Using the BigRep ONE, JC Steele easily designs and tests parts that can be easily installed and removed, printing multiple designs of complex parts that vary in crucial differences (i.e. thickness), to assess the optimal design before expensive patterning and foundry processes are necessary.

“For many clients in core manufacturing industries, large-format 3D printing has now become an integral part of their business,” says BigRep Managing Director, Martin Back. “Our 3D printers are not replacing but complementing other more traditional technologies, improving overall operations and making manufacturing more efficient.“

Photo courtesy of BigRep
Photo courtesy of BigRep

With the addition of large-format additive, JC Steele has created 60 new patterns in just a year. An unprecedented increase in production and an accomplishment that requires their BigRep ONE to be running 24/7 with operators checking in on weekends to verify progress and change filament.

For JC Steele, large-format 3D printing was a must-have to create their large foundry parts and produce at scale: The company’s stiff extrusion technology is dependent on augers – huge columns that work like a drill bit to compact and move material forward through an extrusion chamber. Piecing parts together from smaller printers is not an option. In addition, high-performance materials used with BigRep 3D printers, such as PETG, have the necessary strength resistance for sand casting applications, eliminating the need for wasteful reductive materials without a large environmental footprint.

One-third sealing auger case, raw casting, rear (Photo courtesy of BigRep)
One-third sealing auger case, raw casting, rear (Photo courtesy of BigRep)

“As far as comparing plastic to wood, it’s just as durable in sand casting and our other applications,” says Watts. “But the possibilities are endless as to what we can achieve with a plastic-printed part.”

Another value added by 3D printing for JC Steele is the recreation of otherwise unavailable archived parts that are no longer made by their manufacturers or carried by suppliers. JC Steele is now printing these spare parts in-house, eliminating lead times to find new suppliers, waiting for shipping or planning complicated solutions. After seeing how effective these parts could be manufactured, the company is now also applying the same method to tooling, producing jigs and fixtures on site, particularly for new machines where investing in hard tools upfront is time and cost prohibitive.

Steele-HamerMill (Photo courtesy of BigRep)
Steele-HamerMill (Photo courtesy of BigRep)

About BigRep
BigRep develops the world’s largest serial production 3D printers, creating the industry benchmark for large-scale printing with the aim to reshape manufacturing. Its award-winning, German-engineered machines are establishing new standards in speed, reliability and efficiency. BigRep’s printers are the preferred choice of engineers, designers and manufacturers at leading companies in the industrial, automotive and aerospace sectors. Through collaborations with its strategic partners – including Bosch Rexroth, Etihad Airways and Deutsche Bahn – and key investors – including BASF and Koehler – BigRep continues to develop complete solutions for integrated additive manufacturing systems, as well as a wide range of printing materials on an open-choice source. Founded in 2014, BigRep is headquartered in Berlin with offices in Boston and Singapore. Leading the way in one of the world’s key technologies, our multinational engineering teams are highly trained, interdisciplinary and customer-focused.

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Source: BigRep

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