Prins Staal is a Haarlem based steel processing and trading company. The Dutch company trades in carbon and stainless steel as well as manufactures parts out of steel. Short lead times coupled with unique parts for high-value applications is where the companies focus lies. Prins Staal employs over 75 people at its Haarlem site and has a wide array of steel processing machinery at its disposal. The company uses flame, plasma and laser cutting for steel and also have a plethora of other equipment to shear, sand, straighten, anneal, drill or saw steel. The company makes industrial steel parts, parts for large machinery and even segments for ships. We visited them today to see their 7 flame cutters, 5 plasma cutters and a whole host of other machinery.
The 3D4Makers PLA printed object is partially white in the middle holding back the chain. Photo Credit Jasper Wille.
The facility itself is immense with over 30,000 square meters of space in large halls. Heavy lift equipment which uses magnets can carry 12 tonne pieces of steel around the plant are ten meters above us. Staff is manning plasma cutters that precisely cut thousands of steel parts from ultra high yield steel. Large trays sometimes weighing 25 tonnes or more are fed into the plasma cutter and automatically parts are cut from the steel plates. A recently installed brand new plasma cutter cuts angular patterns in an eight tonne high-grade steel plate. The machines working range is over 75 meters by 6 meters and temperatures of the plasma cutter can reach 25.000 ºC. Prins Staal has a lot of very new high tech machinery. The company, however, has been around since the 70's and still has a considerable amount of old machinery as well.
Made thirty or more years old some flame cutters, bending equipment and transport machinery is still in very good working order. These machines were from high-end vendors and built tough. Still able to perform to the ISO and other standards needed for many of Prins' parts the company is happy to keep using them. Prins had a problem, however, for some of their machines spare parts were no longer available. Drill bit holders for immense milling machines and transport chain covers for 4 by 5 meter trays to transport steel plates were not available anymore. Apart from these spares that are designed to fail regularly the rest of the machines are in good working order.
The machine is huge and the slabs of steel weigh hundreds of Kilos.
The Technical Service team at Prins Staal was looking for a solution for these parts. The volume was too low for them to be made with injection molding. Milling the parts out of steel or other materials were not an option either. The transport chain covers, for example, are polymer parts that in the event of a mishap are designed to fail. These parts are meant to break so that the chain which is under huge pressure does not snap. The chain snapping would be a much more dangerous and costly incident. A plastic part was needed that was strong and tough while having good impact resistance and some flexibility. The shapes were also difficult to process using different tools. Ad van Dijk of Prins Steal then turned to 3D printing for their solution. The parts were designed and printed. The team tested ABS, PETG
, PLA and ASA as a material
The parts were printed on an Ultimaker 2 at 100% infill. Other test infill patterns and densities were also tested as were print orientations. The parts had to be strong but fail in predetermined ways. They could not snap prematurely or ware down too quickly. After many tests, the team opted for PLA as the material for the transport covers. This was very surprising to us. Usually, we'd always look to PET and ABS f
or these kinds of applications. Due to the good layer adhesion of the PLA the material is high strength enough for this application and had the right amount of flex.
The company has now made over a 100 3D printed spare parts for these transport chain covers. They perform well and last between two and six months on the machines. The team is still experimenting with new materials such as ASA and other grades. Over a dozen drill bit guides have also been 3D printed. These also perform well and are being used in production as are the other spare parts.
A 3D printed drill bit holder spare part for an industrial router.
We're very proud that our 3D4Makers PLA and ASA are being used for these kinds of applications. There has been a lot of talk about 3D printing spare parts. Having a company turn to 3D printed spare parts out of necessity and seeing them work in helping to process thousands of tonnes of steel is a great thing to see. We're also happy that 3D printing can be used to extend the life of high quality high end machinery. We think that for a lot of other businesses there are many more opportunities in 3D printing spare parts for machines.