Eaton Moves Toward Industry 4.0 with 3-D Metal Printing

Southfield’s Eaton, a power management company, is implementing a new 3-D metal printing program as part of its Industry 4.0 strategy to reduce development time and improve efficiency.
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Eaton 3-D metal printing
Eaton is implementing a new 3-D metal printing program as part of its Industry 4.0 strategy. // Photo courtesy of Eaton

Southfield’s Eaton, a power management company, is implementing a new 3-D metal printing program as part of its Industry 4.0 strategy to reduce development time and improve efficiency.

The first printer system was installed at the Kings Mountain, N.C. facility, and a global deployment of 3-D polymer printing technology is slated to be completed by the first quarter of 2021.

The 3-D printers are being used to create fixtures, safety devices, automation grippers for assembly and handling, and maintenance components requiring replacement. Prototype development is following the same strategy to support faster product development trials and improve efficiency.

Scanners are being used to create 3-D models of existing components. They will then be reverse-engineered to better leverage 3-D printing capabilities, including changing component design to use less material, the addition of different topography elements, or consolidating multiple components into a single part.

The technology adds material only where it is needed and allows more advanced designs to be developed. These two factors reduce the amount of post-processing operations needed while reducing material cost.

Printing metal parts begins with powdered metal stored in a rod and held together by wax and a polymer binder. Similar to extrusion, the metal is melted, and the 3-D printer begins to add layers based on its programmed schematics.

Once the printing process is complete, the part or component is run through a chemical bath to remove most of the polymer binder. The part then goes through a furnace to remove the remaining wax and polymer and to fuse the metal material in a high-density structure. An additional heat treatment process can be performed to further increase part strength.

In related news, the company’s vehicle group has developed its Detroit Truetrac differential for late-model Ram half-ton pickup trucks. It automatically engages depending on road conditions, offering Ram owners improved handling, better off-road performance, and increased stability while towing.

It will be available this quarter for 2011-current model year V-6 and V-8 Ram models.

“Eaton’s aftermarket team continues to listen to feedback from our customers, and we are excited to add this product to our portfolio,” says Tim Bauer, vice president of aftermarket for Eaton’s vehicle group. “This Detroit Truetrac will allow Ram owners to seamlessly improve the traction and performance of their truck.”

Detroit Truetrac is a helical-gear-style, limited-slip differential that maximizes wheel traction and enhances driving characteristics. It’s maintenance-free and features automatic operation in forward and reverse.

The solution operates as a standard differential under normal driving conditions, allowing for unobtrusive operation. When a wheel encounters a loss of traction or the terrain changes, the helical-shaped gears mesh with increasing force, transferring torque to the high-traction wheel until wheel spin is slowed or completely stopped. When the vehicle exits the low-traction situation, the differential resumes normal operation.

Eaton works to develop power management technologies and services.

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