Rapid Innovation with a 3D Print Farm

Rapid Innovation with a 3D Print Farm

Inside the A4 Systems headquarters, a room filled with 20 Prusa 3D printers runs 24/7 to develop and manufacture A4’s key products. Each week, hundreds of prototypes and components are printed for testing and final production. The farm has become an essential part of A4’s toolkit. 

Rapid innovation is part of A4’s DNA. We are always looking for the next tool to improve our ability to innovate. 3D printing enables this. It offers the speed, flexibility, and quality we need to design and build the best cyber physical systems. Building a 3D print farm has taken our abilities to the next level. 

 

 

Prototyping is one of the key activities inside the 3D print farm. Injection molding is expensive and comes with lengthy lead times that are simply not practical for prototyping. In our 3D print farm, we can print a prototype, test it, make revisions, and print the revised version in a matter of hours. There is no need for an expensive mold with each iteration. There is no need to wait weeks for completion. The prototype is produced right before our eyes from a 3D file. 

Rapid prototyping is by far the most talked about feature of 3D printing. But over the years, the technology has continued to grow and new capabilities have risen. Most importantly, the opportunity for low volume production. Companies like Ford, GE, and Boeing have all built print farms to handle their lower volume manufacturing. 

The main purpose of A4’s 3D print farm is just that — low volume production. We 3D print many of the key parts in our HerdWhistle product as well as boxes for many of our other cyber physical systems. With the entire farm ramped up for continuous printing, we can produce up to 500 components per week. 

 

 

Using 3D printing eliminates a significant amount of assembly time from our production process. There is almost never a need to assemble a component. We design them so that they are printed in one piece. Unlike with an injection mold, there is no need to attach multiple pieces of one component to get the exact shape we need. 3D printing does it all in one go and saves valuable time on assembly. 

3D printing uses a process referred to as “additive manufacturing.” It adds material to create an object, in contrast to “subtractive manufacturing,” like a milling machine, which cuts away material from a solid block to create an object. 

Additive manufacturing is much more economical than subtractive. It allows us to use only the exact amount of material that is needed — nothing goes to waste. That way we save on both costs and environmental impact, while still maintaining a quality output of components. 

 

 

Our 3D print farm has proven a valuable tool in our prototyping and production, lowering costs and saving time. Currently operating at 20 3D printers, the farm will only grow from here!