As a leading global force in composite and GRP development and manufacturing, KS Composites is always innovating and keeping up with ever-changing research and development.
With almost 40 years of industry expertise, KS has built a strong reputation in the motorsport sector with a determination to stay ahead in the market.
That approach led them to SYS Systems and Stratasys, world leaders in 3D printing and with ground breaking new technology that is transforming the shopfloor and revolutionising the production process.
Working in the motorsport sector is, by nature, fast-paced and reactive. With high demands from many Formula 1 teams and car manufacturers, KS needed solutions that could produce parts and manufacturing aids quickly.
They made the decision to switch from outsourcing their 3D printing to bringing it in-house, a decision from which they instantly reaped the rewards.
Jamie Smith, Managing Director, said: “We came to the point where we were outsourcing quite a lot and we needed to think about bringing that in-house. We did a bit of research and SYS cropped up, we had great dialogue with them from day one and they made the transition from outsourcing to bringing it in-house really simple for us.
“We took a long time to engage on the first machine but since then we have seen the benefits of that and when we implemented the second machine we did everything in two weeks.
“There was a real element of trust between the two to get that installed and SYS were picking up some printing for us to reduce that bottleneck.”
Initially, KS invested in a Stratasys Fortus 450 3D printer, utilising its large build volume and high-strength polymers for the automotive market. That machine quickly reached full capacity as they discovered the full benefits of 3D printing on the shopfloor, so one 3D printer became two and KS is continuing to utilise the machines to the fullest with additive manufacturing becoming an integral part of their operations.
Matt Parker, Head of Engineering, said: “Before we got our 3D printers, we tended to machine everything in-house, so we used a CNC machine with aluminium, steel, tooling block, those sorts of materials.
“We looked at Stratasys 3D printers because they are industry leaders and it was the obvious choice.
“The first Fortus 450 system we purchased was mainly for soluble cores and ASA jigs and since we have had it we have managed to fill that with work. We bought the second one with ULTEM 1010 resin on and we are starting to integrate that, as well as other materials.
“We are integrating additive manufacturing into the subtractive CNC world, so we will integrate those two departments instead of having additive as a niche department on the side, incorporating it into our day-to-day lives and processes and it has now become as important as CNC machining to what we do here.”
That integration has meant an increasingly important role for 3D printing within KS Composites, with plenty of applications already being utilised and the launch of new materials expanding the scope for future projects.
Dan Johnston, CNC Business Development Manager, said: “We were already offering a whole multitude of services in-house; we have our engineering department, our machining department and the whole composite side of the company.
“3D printing complements all of those services, so whether it’s a fixture for machining or a drill jig for the shopfloor in trim and fit or whether it’s a soluble core for the composite department, it’s really opened up all those different avenues that weren’t there previously.”
He added: “The printers themselves are fantastic. When you look at the reliability, we know we’re getting repeatable results, which is critical as we don’t have the time to be remaking them. We’ve been using SR30 as a soluble core, but we’ve also been using ULTEM, which has been really good for high-heat applications.
“Alongside this, we’re now just starting to introduce the Nylon 12 carbon fibre material onto our shopfloor, predominately within the CNC department.
“It has become integral because it allows us to react a lot quicker than previously. We can come up with a solution in a lot shorter lead time, so when we’re dealing with these quick turnaround clients and they need their parts, we know 3D printing gives us a robust solution to that.”
The benefits of 3D printing have been endless for KS Composites, as they are not only able to save time but they are able to save money in resources and part costs.
Previously, the CNC machines would be full of not only tooling but manufacturing aids and now the Stratasys 3D printers are taking on the workload to print the jigs and fixtures, enabling the CNC machines to be free for tooling production.
Matt said: “The amount of programming and time to CNC machine manufacturing aids with complex curvature and multiple operations would be many hours, whereas to slice it and orientate it takes several minutes. It can then be printed overnight on an unmanned machine without having to worry about multiple set ups.
“In terms of the actual cost of a finished jig, we would be looking at about an 80% cost saving compared to machining.
“The 3D printers we’ve got have exceeded our expectations and the requirements that we originally had with them.”