Automotive injection molder Techniplas LLC is establishing an additive manufacturing center to speed up product development as it digitizes its operations across the board.
"It's coming to life as we speak," said Avi Reichental, CEO of the new Techniplas Digital business unit, in a phone interview.
"It's the future of short-run manufacturing," he predicted. Manufacturing in the future will be a hybrid of traditional and new methods, he said.
Techniplas has already installed a dozen 3D printers at its Ventura, Calif., operation, Reichental said. Initial emphasis will be on direct metal printing for rapid tooling development. Using 3D-printed metal inserts in standard mold bases will accelerate toolmaking.
In parallel, the firm will develop component production from continuous, high-speed, UV-cured polymers. 3D printing will support the drive to vehicle lightweighting and improved plastics performance. With 3D printing, complexity is "free," the company claims.
Techniplas Digital is charged with accelerating the migration of smart technologies from the edge of development to the company's core operations, including custom injection molding for auto and other industries.
Reichental said Techniplas has a long history of design and manufacturing that it can leverage for a rapid transition to digital-based manufacturing.
"We will take what we have done extremely well over many decades and apply it."
The Nashotah, Wis., company claims it is among the first to combine traditional and additive manufacturing with embedded computing.
"Through deep learning capabilities and generative design, the company has the capacity to make new products and services that are reshaping mobility," the firm said in a news release.
Techniplas will apply digitization to its ongoing work in smart, or cognitive connected systems for auto applications. These end uses include air and water management systems that control auto cabin air quality, active grille shutters that improve a car's aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, and cognitive lighting systems that allow communication between the driver, car and pedestrian as well as distinctive auto styling and branding.
Reichental said plastics will be part of new cognitive systems.
"We see plastics as the surfaces and in the interface, for example encapsulating sensors."
Such technology is already appearing in fascia, cladding and lighting. The aim is to combine sensors and computers for intelligent, adaptive lighting as well as customized styling of a vehicle.
"For decades, we've been designing and making some of the most complex and challenging components and assemblies for the automotive industry," Chief Operating Officer Manfred Kwade said in a news release.
"Now we're applying this knowledge to the new age of automotive design and manufacturing to make our customer's journey to digital mobility a reality."
Techniplas will develop its new technologies both in the United States and Europe, where Reichental said the firm has strong research and development centers in Switzerland and Germany.
The company plans a large, data-centric management system throughout its facilities around the world. Heading that program is recently appointed Chief Transformation Officer Frederic Desmarchelier. He will work with John Chenoweth, recently named as vice president of information technology. Chenoweth was formerly product manager for General Electric Healthcare and IT manager for Lockheed Martin.
Reichental said Techniplas is partnering with external sources in its digitization drive. It has experience in factory data acquisition but it also will hook up with startup companies that can help it accelerate its programs. Partners include Stanford University, ParaMatters, Rinspeed, Nexa3D and XponentialWorks, a company founded by Reichental. Reichental was president and CEO of additive printing major 3D Systems Inc. for 12 years.
Techniplas does custom injection molding around the world. Its subsidiaries include Dickten Masch Plastics LLC of Nashotah, with locations in Ankeny, Iowa, and Monterrey, Mexico; Nyloncraft Inc. of Mishawaka, Ind., with another location in Jonesville, Mich.; and Weidplas GmbH of Kuesnacht, Switzerland, with locations in Rüti, Switzerland; Piracicaba, Brazil; Treuen, Germany, and Auburn, Ala.
Techniplas is a privately held, 2,000-employee company that had consolidated sales of more than $500 million in 2016. In 2016, its injection molding units posted sales of $267 million, placing it at No. 35 in Plastics News' ranking of North American injection molders.