BY BRIAN SCIACKITANO / FIREBOLT GROUP
The Firebolt Group was recently selected to be a part of Project DIAMOnD’s PPE Resilience Grant Program. Automation Alley, funded by Oakland and Macomb counties, created Project DIAMOnD—which stands for Distributed, Independent, Agile, Manufacturing On-Demand—to address the urgent need to move companies into the digital manufacturing age of Industry 4.0 as fast as possible to help improve manufacturing agility and response to future disruptions.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an urgent and massive need for PPE and ventilators. The unanticipated need, coupled with the inability to quickly ramp up production, contributed to government quarantines until the healthcare system could get stocked with resources as well as build the capacity to handle an onslaught of patients. This program addresses this problem by helping position Michigan as an agile, digital-ready essential source of manufactured goods in times of national crisis.
As part of the program, The Firebolt Group was awarded a brand new, state-of-the-art Markforged 3D printer.
The Firebolt Group is always looking towards the future and has plans to continue to leverage its 3D print capabilities to speed up production times. One of The Firebolt Group’s key advantages over competitors is the ability to rapid prototype. For standard illuminated product lines, Firebolt Labs averages 5-7 days to produce not a proof-of-concept prototype, but a production-intent sample.
More challenging products may require tooling for injection molded parts. These tools are very costly, upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, and that process takes 4-6 weeks. Having the 3D printer at their disposal will also give them in-house capabilities for additive manufacturing that reduces that lead time to just a few days. Firebolt can now produce a model that helps them validate the form, fit, and function of a part at a minimal cost. The quality of the parts are as strong as metal and require very little secondary processing once they are printed.
In addition to rapid prototyping, Firebolt also utilizes the 3D printer for small intricate parts in fixturing or jigs used to speed up their final assembly operations in large volume production runs. These custom parts are too small to CNC or fabricate by hand. Fixturing can boost efficiencies and reduce lead times.
The pandemic is rapidly reshaping and accelerating the digital transformation of the manufacturing sector. As businesses are forced to change and adapt, they are finding new ways to get the job done—and Industry 4.0 technologies are leading the way. Firebolt is no exception, quickly pivoting when the pandemic hit to manufacture PPE and ventilator parts for GE and Ford programs, and now using 3D printing technology to print PPE through Project DIAMOnD.