Elevating to New Heights with 3D Printing
Charles Goulding and Tyler Gianchetta of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing in the elevator industry.
As the realm of 3D printing continues to extend into more and more areas of manufacturing, it seems only natural that the technology would work its way into the processes of elevator and escalator manufacturers. After all, the practice of 3D printing has played a pivotal part in the manufacturing of electric components for years, and the benefits that the technology yields have been significant and widespread, ranging from faster lead times, increased output efficiency, and even allowing for the creation of parts or development of projects that would not be possible otherwise.
Many older buildings in urban areas have more confined spaces, making it more difficult to modernize the elevators with current code-compliant equipment due to the spatial limitations of the property. Additionally, on the residential side of the market, the older population occupying a significant percentage of these buildings has specific equipment configuration needs. The advent of 3D printing has enabled elevator companies serving this market to create custom equipment solutions designed to work around the project’s limitations from the outset.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
New or improved products, processes, or software
Technological in nature
Elimination of uncertainty
Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
Recently, KONE successfully underwent the process of integrating 3D printing into their 2D design processes by utilizing Autodesk Inventor software. This combination of one of the world’s premier elevator and escalator manufacturers with the world’s top ranked 3D mechanical design software product allows KONE to create designs based on the functional requirements of a project. As a result of the form being driven primarily by function, the company is able to streamline the transition from concept to reality with designs that succeed earlier due to increased reliability.
As one of the world’s top elevator and escalator manufacturers, KONE features significant expertise in a wide array of products and services ranging from design and installation to maintenance and modernization. Their modernization team specializes in solutions that allow building owners to update their existing elevators and escalators at a substantially lower cost than a total replacement. During these highly complicated modernization endeavors, a crucial aspect of the project is the removal of the mechanical and electrical components of the elevator or escalator while keeping the structural framework intact. This allows the new technology to be installed without disturbing the customer.
KONE’s longstanding approach to this process has been to conduct the majority of its modernization design work in 2D. However, after exploring the potential advantages of integrating 3D design into these modernization projects, they recognized the value of 3D printing in overcoming the constant challenge of incorporating a universal product into several different types and models of escalators and elevators. The Functional Design features in Autodesk Inventor, specifically the Frame Generator and Design Accelerator, allow KONE to generate parts and assemblies based on functional requirements and real-world parameters. This in turn promotes the maximization of commonality and interchangeability of parts, as well as the minimization of design time and field installation hours that result from improper component fit. Aside from these specific benefits, the introduction of Autodesk Inventor into their design cycle allows KONE to vastly improve their overall production and installation speed and efficiency.
In addition to saving time, Autodesk Inventor’s 3D designs also make it much easier to visualize solutions in relation to the actual dimensions of the project, which is an invaluable asset in both conceptualizing and brainstorming. These methodologies ensure that KONE remains at the forefront of design and manufacturing. In order to maintain success in the current market, finding ways to increase productivity without sacrificing innovation or cost effectiveness is paramount. KONE has epitomized and exemplified this mentality as they are consistently exploring new ways to expand their expertise, improve their processes, and elevate themselves – no pun intended – to the next level.
Otis Elevator Company
Otis has a longstanding rich history as one of the premier household names when it comes to elevator manufacturing, boasting over 160 years of experience in the field after being founded by the original inventor of the safety elevator. Despite already being well-established as one of the world’s leading manufacturers and maintainers of elevators, escalators, and moving walkways, Otis is nevertheless continuing to look for new methods to refine their craft, including the inclusion of new technology into their extensive repertoire. For example, through working closely with the architectural community, they identified a need in the marketplace for a highly customizable tool that could reside in Revit software.
Otis sought to fill this glaring hole in the market, and in 2015, they succeeded in doing so through the introduction of BIMCreate, an online tool that allows architects to design and customize 3D files for building plans. BIMCreate was developed as a complimentary add-in for Revit building information modeling (BIM) software. With the help of Otis BIMCreate, architects now have the option to design a precise Revit file for their project rather than selecting from a list of pre-existing templates in the software, as well as the ability to read building heights directly from the architect’s model. This combination of features has proven to substantially save time and improve the accuracy of the important dimensions of the project.
Additionally, Otis BIMCreate supports architects in making important structural decisions by providing elevator specifications for individual projects before breaking ground, which helps buildings and their elevator systems come together seamlessly.
SODIMAS has been among the leading elevator manufacturers since its inception in 1975. Headquartered in France, the company has long specialized in the design of high-quality custom elevators.
Keeping up with shifts in the market necessitates constant innovation, particularly in an industry as niche as elevator manufacturing. Therefore, it is no surprise that SODIMAS has incorporated 3D printing technology to bolster their growth and aid in the area of innovation. In 2016, they enlisted the services of Stratasys 3D Printing Solutions to help achieve this goal. Spearheading this initiative is SODIMAS’s cutting-edge FDM-based Fortus 450MC 3D Printer from Stratasys, which they have integrated into some of their most prominent applications such as functional prototyping and assembly tools.
The introduction of 3D printing has been a godsend in regards to functional prototyping, allowing SODIMAS to cut their prototype production time by 98% as well as increase their flexibility. The concept and development for many of their frame designs have been achieved through the utilization of these 3D printing methods. They implement these processes in the production of parts for the elevator’s ceiling, walls, and floor simultaneously, and SODIMAS is able to verify that the design and assembly are the correct fit far more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be possible.
SODIMAS continued to showcase 3D printing’s prowess as an invaluable tool for innovation in the area of assembly tools. The integration of Stratasys 3D printer has enabled SODIMAS to design productivity-boosting assembly tools for a variety of elevator components. Using this technology in conjunction with Stratasys’ incredibly tough ULTEM material, SODIMAS has already printed 15 different tools that each provide some sort of improvement to a wide variety of their components, including a custom jig that takes just a few seconds to operate.
The benefits that 3D printing technology can provide in the realm of elevator manufacturing have shown to be substantial and undeniable, and they are only projected to grow as the practice becomes more refined. In fact, SODIMAS is already exploring further applications of 3D printing in their day-to-day operations, including the reduction of warehouse expenses due to an increased ability to manufacture parts more quickly. By adopting these processes, elevator manufacturing companies can continue to reach new heights.