Ricoh boosts productivity by replacing metal tools with 3D-printed lightweight tools

Japanese office automation equipment manufacturer Ricoh Industries is replacing traditional metal tooling with customized, lightweight 3D printed jigs and fixtures for its Production Technology Center assembly line – improving manufacturing efficiency while minimizing manual tooling errors.

The assembly line, located in Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan, is dedicated to manufacturing large-format printers.

Assembling an electronic component using a 3D printed fixture produced in anti-static ABS plastic on the Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer improves manufacturing efficiency (Photo: Ricoh)

By producing the tools in durable acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) thermoplastic resin on a Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer, Ricoh is able to customize each tool precisely according to the part geometry while reducing the tool’s weight.

This has enabled Ricoh to accelerate the manufacturing process in which an operator typically handles more than 200 different part types each day.

Ricoh develops and manufactures high quality office equipment such as copiers, fax machines and projectors.

The competitive nature of the electronics industry led the company to look for new ways to accelerate product launches while maintaining or lowering its production costs.

“Because we are producing an enormous number of parts, it takes a lot of time and effort to identify the right jigs and fixtures for each one. This manual process has become even lengthier as the number of components grows, requiring that an operator examine the shape, orientation and angle of each part before taking out a tool and placing it back in its original fixture. The operators were occasionally annoyed with the many different tools, and we were looking for a way to accelerate tooling to match our manufacturing schedule,” said Taizo Sakaki, Senior Manager of Business Development at Ricoh Group.

“Now with Stratasys 3D printing, we are able to customize the tools according to the part and produce them on demand which is helping us restructure and modernize our production process.”

Ricoh’s 3D printed jigs and fixtures boost assembly line productivity. These manufacturing aids were produced on the Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer using ABS plastic (Photo: Ricoh)

Prior to 3D printing, Ricoh had to outsource machine cut tools which could take two weeks or more.

Now, Ricoh’s operators can determine the shape and geometry of a fixture that corresponds to associated part through 3D CAD software and 3D print it in one day.

This leaves the workers more time to attend to other stations.

Moreover, new hires can now adapt to the tools and the workstations in two days when previously a new worker had to spend at least one week to learn all the tools.

The jigs and fixtures are also much lighter so that workers can use them for a prolonged period of time without fatigue.

“The Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D printing solution enables us to realize designs that are difficult for conventional cutting methods to replicate, such as hollow interiors, curves or complex shapes. The ABS material used to 3D print the tools is very strong and anti-static, which is important due to the large number of electronic components we are assembling, adding to the advantages of 3D printing,” explained Sakaki.

Ricoh’s large-format printer assembly plant has pioneered the adoption of digital manufacturing, and the company continues to explore areas where 3D printing can be applied to expedite workflows, such as molding and low-volume production – releasing more resources and expanding its scope for its diverse customer base.

“Customized 3D printed jigs and fixtures can play an important role in enabling companies to get products to market faster and are a great example of how Stratasys applies purposeful innovation to manufacturers’ goals and aspirations. Whenever you can reduce a process from weeks to days – that is a solution worth exploring,” commented Omer Krieger, President of Stratasys Asia Pacific & Japan.

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