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A Maryland Miracle – Sand Casting with Additive Manufacturing

John Danko,  President of Danko Arlington, spoke on ‘How Manufacturers are using 3D printing + other rapid technologies’ on  Friday October 12, 2012  at The Loyola University Graduate Center Timonium, Maryland.

Many thanks to Mike Galiazzo at RMI, Ryan Sybrant from Stratasys, and Mike Lahatte from Trimech for inviting me to share our interesting story.

You never know who you might meet at one of these conferences – so pay close attention!  The last RMI 3-D printing last conference was in April ’12 where we heard Dave Burns, President and COO of ExOne Corporation.  ExOne uses addititive manufacturing to actually print sand molds for the foundry industry.  After hearing and meeting Dave, our company started doing business together in a phenomenal technology which we never even heard about before – so you just never know what you will learn today!

The topic of my presentation this morning is ‘A Maryland Miracle – Sand Casting with Additive Manufacturing.’   The choice of wording for the topic is appropriate since we actually have two miracles:  One — that our company is now 92 years old and very strong in manufacturing, and in Maryland of all States!;  and two — that our company has embraced this new additive manufacturing technology which has transformed our business which was restricted by a limited skilled labor workforce to now having the ability to grow.  As a result, we are now a leader in our industry.

Danko Arlington is an unique manufacturing company consisting of a pattern (which is like a tool and die shop), metal casting foundry where we cast molten metal into custom parts, and CNC machining to mill, drill, and cut the parts to finished dimensions.

Before getting into the details about how we have transformed our business, it is appropriate at this point to play a short video about how our company operates to give you the big picture of our entire operation:

–Play the video DVD ~5 minutes (the video is also on our website www.dankoarlington.com)

So as you saw in the film, we are now using the additive manufacturing to supplement what we call pattern making or the ‘master mold making’ part of our business.    As our production quantities are often low, patterns have traditionally been made out of wood, as wood is abundant, cheap, and easily carved.   If production quantities are high, patterns are usually made out of metal and cast in a different process known as permanent mold or die casting.   Bear in mind that casting process is over five thousand years old and dates back to the Bronze Age.

My grandfather, Joseph O. Danko, Sr., was a patternmaker, and who worked for the Washington Navy Yard during World War I before starting his own business in 1920 in Baltimore.  At that time, and up to recently, most of the patterns to produce the mold impressions for casting in the foundry were made exclusively by hand.  One would become a journeyman patternmaker only after many years of experience and training.   In fact, the patternmakers at that time were highly regarded as professionals, so much so, that they wore on the job starched collared shirts, neck ties, and white aprons!   Pattern makers were never and should never be called a blue collar workforce because they were extremely talented individuals who incorporated math, complex geometry, and art in their everyday trade.

Today, with much of America’s manufacturing going offshore, pattern making, and metal casting is a dying trade.   Many patterns are still made by hand by near or part-time retirees or by computerized CNC machines, but these tasks require very skilled individuals to operate the equipment needed to construct an accurate pattern.

So how does a foundry that relies on pattern making to mold new cast products stay in business?  The answer is to use modern technology, or in our case, additive manufacturing with 3-D printing, to bridge the gap.

Two years ago, Danko Arlington purchased a Stratasys 900MC FDM printer.   FDM stands for fused deposition modeling.   Basically the machine has weed whacker style spooled high-strength plastic material that is melted layer upon layer on a descending platen until the part is constructed from the bottom up.  The 900MC can also print in size up to two feet by three feet by three feet high.

With our hand molding no-bake sand casting process, we are okay to use plastic tooling, as our production quantities are usually low and we produce parts which fall into the 900’s printer envelope.

The advantages of using the FDM printer are numerous.  Here are just six examples of some of the benefits:

One — What you can envision in Cad Cam design can be easily manufactured.  A designer engineer or ‘state-of-the-art’ pattern maker does not need to consider how the pattern is going to be produced.   You can print square corners, or polygons, odd angles, weird ‘potato chip’ like surfaces, reverse angles, or back draft, just for example.   Even the most complex shapes can easily be produced as five axis parts with the 3-D printer.

Two – The printer is extremely accurate in depositing the print material.   Our industry tolerances are plus or minus 1/32nd of an inch.  The printer is accurate within several thousandths of an inch or the width of a couple human hairs.   No skilled pattern maker or even a clunky machine tool can reproduce these tolerances.  This is a huge advantage as closer tolerance tooling obviously produces closer tolerance parts.  Closer tolerance parts create less scrap and are often more desired by the customer.

Three – Features that used to be added after a pattern is made, such as pins, locks, countersunk hold down holes, offset parting, draft, and fillets, are incorporated in the 3-D print job.  The idea with using this technology is to keep as much human involvement out of the manufacturing process as possible.  Even the best craftsmen make mistakes and additional steps involve a loss of accuracy.  It is best to use the printer to do as much as possible as the extra print time should well outweigh the additional hours of labor that would have been involved to finish the project.

Four—reduced lead time.  Additive manufacturing has been also referred to as ‘rapid prototyping.’   The ‘rapid’ process is a huge benefit in pattern making.   What use to take weeks to fabricate by human hands now takes days, or sometimes hours to print.   The reduction of lead time is a big seller and puts your company well ahead of the competition.

Five—Lower Pricing.  We are even using the additive technology in the bidding phase of contracts as R&D modeling tool well.   We are able to provide better pricing to customers if we spend some time during the proposal stage of printing a full scale part needed to be cast.  In this way, we are able to get a better feel of the design that just reading a two dimensional blueprint.

Our managers then have better confidence and estimate with more accuracy and with less material than just taking an educated guess.   And speaking about the competition, there is nothing like sending that prototype part which you made during the bidding stage with your proposal.   We find that our customers are blown away and eager to do with a company that had done their ‘homework.’

And finally, Six – The process is extremely efficient.  One CAD CAM designer can do the work of ten pattern makers!   The engineer does not need an office or drawing board, and with a laptop, can do the design work anywhere.   Our large tool and die shop has become obsolete and replaced with a 3-D printer – that does not even make any dust!   Parts can even be designed at home and later remote downloaded to the printer.   How cool is that!

And this brings to mind an interesting perspective about employment, especially as talk about jobs has been on the forefront of the election politics.

As I previously mentioned, there are no emerging pattern makers today, so we are really not taking away any jobs with this technology.    We are really starting over by scratch as most the patternmakers are near or at retirement, or dead.   Even though one engineer can do the work of many craftsmen, having greater throughput in producing tooling, provides more projects for molders, grinders, machinists, administrative, and sales people.  So additive manufacturing is not as much as a job killer as one would believe, rather it is a job catalyst that can cause a factory to come alive.

This trickle down, positive effect, also makes the current high cost of this technology more palatable.  In our case, for example, we are just not growing and investing in our patternmaking business, but our company as a whole.  Justifying an expensive capital equipment purchase is extremely difficult, especially in this bad economy, but the justification for company wide expansion will be a given – something that the sales people at Trimech and at Stratasys would be happy to share with you if you buy a printer!

I should also point out, however, that we are still in an R&D stage even after using this technology for two years.  We are working through the bugs at present with help from Stratasys for optimizing FDM tooling for our sand casting process.   FDM printing is not for everything we do, or for every foundry, but we are certainly pioneers using this technology in our own sand casting niche.

In closing, I just wanted to share with you that last week I attended the Stevenson University Fall job fair at their Owings Mills Campus.  There were eighty four companies at the fair and ours was the only small business manufacturer seeking employment there!   Danko Arlington is looking for a recent grad that can help market and sell our products and this new technology!   Let me repeat if you were not paying attention: Danko Arlington — a Maryland Manufacturer in an old fashioned primary metals business with SEVEN smoke stacks is now hiring!!   If you remember nothing else today remember that because of our use of additive manufacturing, Danko Arlington is hiring!

Unfortunately, however, most of the students were interested in IT, web design, financial, and service industries.   This is the next generation!  C’mon people…where are the manufactures?  Where are the young people?  Kind of sad in my mind that young Americans have lost interest in making things other than new video games or i-phone apps.

The good news is that the students that I spoke to had no idea that cool ‘IT-like’ 3-D printing technology is complementing old companies like ours to propel us into the future.    Our use of additive manufacturing actually sparked a lot of interest in our company!  We are really having a lot of fun!

Danko Arlington is indeed a Maryland Miracle!

I am happy to share our story with you and inspire your creativity as well.   Additive manufacturing is incredibly exciting and hopeful for rebounding American business like ours.

Many thanks again for the opportunity to present and best wishes for continued success in your entrepreneurship and future ventures as well!