How We used Additive Manufacturing to be More Productive at work

April 5, 2019



This post was written by Daniel Santos, attending the last year of his master´s degree at the University of Aveiro in Portugal. Driven by the countless innovations that the new technologies are making and interested on the fact that designing and prototyping new products will never be the same an internship of 6 months at Heinkel Engineering GmbH & Co. KG allowed me to write my thesis and explore the infinite possibilites of additive manufacturing and how the industry can benefit from it. 



The implementation of a gadget at Heinkel Engineering´s offices.


Figure 1 - Final Design



Since the first civilizations the desire to do more and have more is present in ourselves. As in our personal or professional lives, we aim to do better. The more productive we are the better we feel.



Talking about productivity we can think about three questions:


1 - How can we do better?


2 - How can we do more?


3 - How can we finish our most important tasks in less time?



To set the project´s priorities effectively, to have a good attitude regarding the obstacles and to clarify the goals are important. Therefore, sometimes we don´t complete our desired task as we initially planned. Why?


There are many explanations and one is that we stop our productive time with distractions. Taking breaks at work are more than proven to have benefits. We can boost our productivity since we come back to our work more relaxed and energized.


To be distracted on our work place is different.


Sometimes we want to focus on an important task: reading an important document, focusing in a personal brainstorming or waiting for an important call. During these moments it is inconvenient to be interrupted. One of our colleagues asks us something and we must switch our activity. We lose the attention to our initial task.


All of us faced some similar problems to those described above. Studies show that it takes in average 20 minutes to get back into our high level of focus after we´ve been interrupted. Let´s consider an estimation: an interruption lasts four minutes and the time to focus after it takes only two minutes (ten times less than the time proven in scientific studies). If we consider three similar interruptions per day the time not spend on our tasks would be 18 minutes (Figure 2).



Figure 2 - Erstimation of the cost of the interruptions in minutes.



Considering an average work year, those interruptions take us 3.75 % of our weekly working time. In total it costs to the company 4,356 minutes per year. The equivalent to approximately nine days of work. Imagine if we would do a more realistic estimation. 


At Heinkel´s offices we aim to create a friendly working environment and to improve our productivity. For these reasons we decided to develop a tool helping us to avoid those interruptions.



Design phase


For the product itself we decided to create a system based on different light colours. When not available for interruptions we need to turn on a red light. For the moments beeing open too small talks and helping someone we would need a green light.



The product had to fill up some other requirements that we considered important for the user:


1 - Easy to use.

2 - Printable with all in-house 3D printers.


3 - Adaptable to a common office.


4 - Environmentally friendly.



In terms of the design requirements we wanted to manufacture a product that doesn´t demand excessive material and long time to print.




Development phase



Before the final version, different drafts and solutions were tested. As the first step was to choose which kind of lighting systems we would use. As power source we considered that a battery was not environmental friendly and we aimed to select a better option. Finally, a USB hub was the choosen solution.


During the design process I made myself some mistakes regarding to the build orientation. A non-appropriate design also needed excessive material. The initial printing time for one model would require approximately eight hours (Figure 3). For this reason the first design was set aside.



 Figure 3 - First model. 



After defining a certain USB-light as the light source (Figure 2) the approach for the desired solution changed. These USB-lights are activated by a touch on a touch sensor. The idea was to develop a case that allows to insert the USB-light but also to activate it. An initally created design (Figure 3) had a slightly reduced thickness covering the touch sensor. Unfortunately, this concept only worked on one material colour.





















Figure 2 - USB light source.                                                                                 Figure 3 - First design for USB light.



After some changes we finally found the right model. With the help of a 3D printer we printed the desired devices for our offices. The case for the device shown is an assembly of two parts that were printed in different colours. Two USB-lights are placed in a USB hub that can be fixed on the back of any desktop monitor with a strong tape. The lights of these two USB-light can be activated through the holes of the case by a simple finger touch on the sensor (Figure 4).



                                                         Figure 4 - Final model attached on a monitor.



Since the light must pass through the part indicated as 1 in Figure 5 I had to modify some settings in the slicer software to ensure usability and comfort. With the infill density adjusted on 20 % the light from the led was too strong and could cause some discomfort to the eye. The infill percentage was increased and different models were tested to find out which configuration brings the best results.


Figure 5 - Interior of the model



After having some feedback from our colleagues we decided that 40 % infill density was the one with the best ballance between visibility and comfort.




Some insights



During the development of the design of the case for this version I learned some important lessons regarding importance of a good build orientation. The fact is that if we orientate well our model we can significantly reduce the amount of supports. For that, we must create a design that is oriented to the final build orientation of the product. Some mistakes were made by me during the design process because I was not thinking about the final orientation of the product. 



Truthfully, these are the three most important lessons that I learnt from this project:


1 - Everything can be designed within a 3D model but not everything is printable.


2 - Although complex features are possible to create, the build orientation, layer´s width and the major effect that support structures are sometimes necessary must be considered during the design process.


3 - The characteristics of the technology used for 3D printing is also another major aspect that must be looked attentively before starting the first draft of the project.



As a conclusion I can say that this was a good project to get in touch with the unlimited possibilties of additive manufacturing. At the present moment we can put in life our ideas in a very short time and our prototypes can be tested in a couple of days. 


 Figure 6 - Different impressions from the development of the lighting device.


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