Mark Two 3D printer secures a firm grip in robotic automation

Dixon Valve pipe fittings in the factory aligned with 3D printed fixtures
Dixon Valve pipe fittings in the factory aligned with 3D printed fixtures

Machining tools individually can take a lot of time. Especially when it concerns critical parts for use in an industrial environment, being able to manufacture these tools in a time-effective way in-house can be a real advantage. In this case study, the people behind Dixon Valve explain how their production benefits from using the Mark Two industrial strength 3D printer.

By Alexander Crease, Applications Engineer at Markforged

Getting a Grip

An industrial FANUC robotic arm gracefully swings from one automated machining centre to another with a pipe fitting firmly gripped between its jaws. At Dixon Valve’s US manufacturing facility in Chestertown, Maryland, these robotic arms are commonplace in production line cells, used for part transfers in the manufacturing process. Strength, safety, and chemical resistance are key components to Dixon Valve’s efficient work environment, and as such attached to the arm of each robot is a set of Onyx jaws, printed on the Mark Two industrial strength 3D printer.

“Dixon Valve is a manufacturer of fittings for fluid transfer industries,” Max de Arriz, Manufacturing Engineer at the company, explains. “We’re using a large robotic arm to transfer many styles of our parts between two vertical turning centres.” With the thousands of different valves, fittings, and gauges that the company manufactures, each product line setup requires custom equipment, including tooling and grips to hold specific parts efficiently. De Arriz, along with Automation Technician J.R. Everett, reap the benefits of their Mark Two in Dixon’s production facility.

A two jaw gripper set for a pipe fitting
A two jaw gripper set for a pipe fitting

Within Arm’s Reach

“Prior to using 3D printed jaws in the cell, we were machining each tool individually, and it would take a fairly large amount of time,” de Arriz explains. Every gripping tool needed to be either outsourced to an external machine shop or machined in house with the manufacturing capabilities at hand. Either way, manufacturing parts as critical as production line grippers was getting time consuming. As Dixon primarily produces valves and fittings, these grippers also require strength and chemical resistance, as well as wear resistance from repeated use. “To that end, we utilize the Markforged parts as our transfer gripping system,” de Arriz concludes.

“Prior to using 3D printed jaws in the cell, we were machining each tool individually, and it would take a fairly large amount of time.”

As soon as Dixon Valve unboxed their industrial strength Markforged 3D printer, they put it to work. “We were able to re-tool a robotic arm in a manufacturing cell in under 24 hours,” Everett exclaims. The Mark Two not only allows for the production of their robotic jaws quickly, but the material capabilities of the printer, including its ability to lay continuous strands of high-strength fibres into 3D printed parts, ensures reliability in a factory setting. “Onyx is one of my favourite materials because it combines stronger composite material with the chemical resistivity of nylon,” elaborates Everett, referring to Markforged’s chopped carbon fibre nylon filament. “It hits the sweet spot for us in chemical resistance and strength.”

Hand in Hand

The Mark Two enables Dixon Valve to produce new manufacturing solutions at unprecedented speed and cost, providing the company with a powerful new tool in their toolbox. “It’s a critical component in our design process and it is really changing the way we work to the point where we are actually altering our procedures and plans to accommodate this ground-breaking product,” says Everett. By incorporating the printer into the company’s workflow, Dixon Valve was able to expand and improve even further, and they don’t plan to stop there. The ability to produce parts with esteemed strength, quality, and precision at a low cost gives Everett high hopes for Dixon’s path forward: “If I had to tell somebody on the street what’s great about this product, or what is great about Onyx, or what the coolest thing is to get out of it, I’d say it’s your imagination. If you can think of it, you can create it.”

This case study was published in the March/April edition of 3D fab+print magazine.