Getting Your Bearings with 3D Printing
Charles Goulding and Tyler Gianchetta of R&D Tax Savers discuss the impact of 3D printing on bearings production.
Bearings have been a pivotal part of industry for centuries, having long staked their claim as one of the most widely-utilized tools across a multitude of fields. The design and versatility has continued to evolve over time, from wooden bearings to steel bearings, and now has expanded to integrate 3D printing technology to bring this age-old industrial staple into the future.
3D printing has enabled manufacturing companies to develop complicated geometrics through more straightforward processes. It also provides the distinct advantage of the ability to utilize a wider array of materials, from metal to non-metal such as carbon-based, fiber-based, and even ceramic-based materials.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
Must be technological in nature
Must be a component of the taxpayers business
Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include U.S. employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, U.S. contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, pre-profitable and pre-revenue startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.
igus, Inc., headquartered in Rumford, Rhode Island, is a globally-renowned manufacturer and distributor of all different types of bearings and bushings, ranging from plastic plain bearings to linear guides as well as to spherical bearings. The company has long explored the possibility of introducing tribological filaments in order to meet customer demands and design their own parts and prototypes using the company’s plastic materials. Tribology refers to the science and engineering of surfaces in relative motion and includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication, and wear.
igus, Inc. has launched 3D printing material that has the potential to drastically change the bearing manufacturing industry. The new iglide tribo-filament is nearly 50 times more resistant than even traditional 3D printing materials such as ABS, and holds the distinction as the world’s first material to be enhanced with low-friction properties. This innovative new filament, known as iglidur I180-PF, has been optimized for repetitive movement by integrating lubricants into the plastic itself, rendering it substantially more durable in motion applications and bearings.
igus, Inc. has emphasized the impact of this new material in the design and manufacturing of bearings, which extends the life of a machine and ensure minimal energy use due to low levels of friction. This quality is achieved through extremely low part-to-part contact while simultaneously providing maximum radial support during proprietary design stages, effectively reducing friction while maintaining the structural integrity of the bearing. More importantly, these incredibly complex geometries that grant the bearing its exceptional point-contact features cannot be developed through conventional manufacturing methods such as machining or injection molding. Instead, they can only be produced through 3D printing methodologies using the unique self-lubricating filament iglide. In addition to allowing for new innovative designs, the filament’s 3mm size makes it compatible with Airwolf 3D printer models HD, HDX, HD2X, and XL.
The highly distinct characteristics of the iglidur I180-PF filament opens up the possibility of 3D printing fully functional, self-lubricating bearings for the first time – a concept that seemed farfetched not too long ago. However, with the advent of new technology, ideas like self-lubricating bearings that were previously deemed mere fantasy could not only become reality, but they could potentially reshape the very foundation of the industry.
Bowman International, Ltd.
Featuring over 40 years of expertise in manufacturing bearings, Bowman International, Ltd., headquartered in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom, has now integrated additive manufacturing processes into their repertoire in an effort to revolutionize the industry. The firm recently announced a partnership with the automation software specialists AMFG, which will help Bowman cultivate further growth in its additive manufacturing division. Bowman International has already begun integrating AMFG’s AI-powered production automation software to oversee its production of bearings.
The bearings industry as a whole is currently facing a dramatic increase in demand for additive manufacturing, as the technology offers a cost-effective and efficient method of producing complex or customized components. The AMFG partnership will help Bowman’s already experienced team of engineers reach new heights of efficiency and streamline its entire AM production process. In fact, Bowman has already displayed some of the technology’s capabilities, as they were able to increase the load bearing capacity of its split bearings by nearly 70%, as well as nearly quintuple their working life. The U.K. also has an R&D Tax Credit regime to support efforts such as these.
Bowman International also launched its 3D printing division, appropriately named Bowman Additive Production. The new offering further exemplifies the company’s focus on extending their manufacturing processes to specialize in the production of complex geometrics from engineering grade polymer materials. This effort includes the development of several products specifically related to split bearings, which are now ready for full-scale production and utilize only high-grade Nylon 11 (PA 1102) that is made entirely from renewable resources.
As their first 3D printed component, Bowman International has developed an innovative revolutionary split bearing cage design featuring composite inserts to provide the durability required for a myriad of demanding environments. Incorporating these inserts into the final product elevates Bowman’s Additive Production division to a level of engineering that has seldom been seen before, even within industries where additive manufacturing is more commonplace.
Integrating 3D printing into the traditional manufacturing processes has not only allowed the printing of custom, functional bearings, but has also yielded substantial improvements from a practical standpoint as well as a financial one. The implications in regards to prototyping alone are immense, as the process of waiting for manufactured bearings that could be expensive or out of stock has been largely eliminated. Thanks to 3D printing technology, companies can now create and modify their own bearing designs in a matter of minutes rather than weeks. Companies engaged in these activities may be eligible for R&D tax credits.