Spare parts and attachments are the vital components of a sewing machine which keep it running. In a conventional scenario, where machine sellers do not often stock original spare parts, machine agents come into play. Machine agents play a significant role between technology providers and technology users by providing machines and its spare parts. However, they only keep in stock the commonly used components, which is the case why apparel manufacturers often face a difficult time in getting special purpose parts/attachments such as presser foot for light-weight fabrics, curled teeth feed dog, etc. National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), a pioneer institute coming as a rescuer in such conditions, is providing technical solutions to make such parts on 3D printing machine…
Building spare parts inventory is always an expensive and cumbersome activity – right from stocking of spare parts, finding the correct piece from stock as and when required, maintaining issue records to managing the returns.
Furthermore, the already stocked machine parts leave a little chance for availability of customization of parts like presser foot with custom hinge position, feed dog with custom teeth pitch, or attachments based on fabric type. Eventually, unavailability creates a hurdle for the special designs that require separate type of folders and attachments. Work delay along with compromised quality or change of design specification (compromised design) is usually what manufacturers do as their last step. But now searching the right attachment from digital library and printing the desired and customized parts on a 3D printing machine has been made possible, which is a ‘game changer’ for the industry.
Dr. Prabir Jana, Professor, NIFT Delhi, who is the brainchild behind this project, said, “Currently, in case of non-availability of machine parts, these are being outsourced from workshops based on lathe machines where parts are made by tin plates using traditional techniques which lack precision. Even in some cases, parts can’t be made as per the requirements. But in this new technology of additive manufacturing, one need not adapt subtractive ways.”
The idea of the project is to 3D print machine spare parts by the machine users and near the point of consumption. Primarily focusing on supporting SMEs, the institute will act as a linking thread for the design and development of machine parts. It will continuously design and develop a library of parts and attachments in digital form in cloud, enabling the manufacturers to download the necessary parts/attachments from the cloud and 3D print to use in real time. “One can’t design 3D print as it needs specialization and even experts need 1-2 full days for this. There are already some designs of parts which are ready for printing. For a customized part, NIFT will further create designs,” added Prabir.
The latest technology is a great time saver as it takes only half an hour to two and a half hours, to make any attachment or folder. Various machine parts and attachments like presser foot and downturn feller have already been successfully 3D printed in the research phase on the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printer. Single piece without hinge, single piece with flat spring design, hinged presser foot with only lower portion 3D printed (upper body metallic) and several others make it to the list of successfully 3D printed machine parts.
Designed and tested under various scenarios for durability and flexibility, presser foot is the most versatile part that can be 3D printed to gain various advantages. Moreover, the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) made presser foots are tested in shopfloor conditions and performed satisfactorily against wear and tear, deformation, etc.
Closely associated with this project, Dr. Deepak Panghal, Professor, NIFT, Delhi mentioned that for the industry it is a first-hand experience to see the manufacturing of sewing machines parts on a 3D printer. “Now they are convinced that a part like presser foot can be made in 30 minutes. The novelty lies in the same and the parts are ready to use without any post-treatment. It will be beneficial even for small- and medium-level garment manufacturers if they come together to invest in this technology,” averred Deepak.
Though the process will be little costly for a facility with 200 to 300 sewing machines, as such small-size facilities need not print such parts every day and additionally the 3D printer costs around US $ 3,000, which is a little too steep for them. However, the objective behind developing this model is that parts should perform with equal ease and quality and the operability of the printer should be ‘plug-and-play’ type. “As of now, we are showing only concepts but how the business model is going to work, is something which is currently not defined. But one thing is for sure that this service will not limit itself only to Indian manufacturers,” highlighted Prabir.
In an exclusive interaction with Team StitchWorld, Dr. Prabir Jana and Dr. Deepak Panghal explain the technology that has undergone in the development of 3D printer. Following are the excerpts:
SW: What is the relevance of 3D printing in apparel industry? How will 3D printing of machine parts or attachments be helpful in apparel manufacturing?
Deepak Panghal: 3D printing is becoming popular day-by-day because of its capability to produce customized products in lesser manufacturing time, zero by-product and most importantly, manufacturing goods at the point of consumption. Although manufacturing goods at the point of consumption gives unprecedented level of postponement of conversion possibility as well as zero transportation cost; however, most of the efforts towards 3D printing of machine parts are currently being taken up by machine manufacturers and not by machine users (exception being International Space Station). However, no research work is reported till date on 3D printing of sewing machine’s spare parts and attachments either by sewing machine manufacturers or by garment manufacturers.
SW: What are the different 3D printing techniques available? How does the whole process of 3D printing take place?
Deepak Panghal: There are various 3D printing techniques: Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Electronic Beam Melting (EBM), and Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM).
SLS is one such technique that uses laser as a power source to form solid 3D objects. Unlike some other additive manufacturing processes, such as SLA and FDM, SLS doesn’t need to use any support structures as the object being printed is constantly surrounded by unsintered powder.
Most printing techniques require Computer Aided Design (CAD) file to process the object which contains information about dimensional representation of an object. CAD file must be converted into a format that a printing machine can understand. There is Standard Tessellation Language (STL) format which is commonly used for SLA as well as for other additive manufacturing processes. The whole process includes subsequent layer-by-layer printing. Hence, STL file that printing machines use should have the information for each layer.
SW: Which 3D printing technique have you used in this project on ‘3D printing of machine parts’?
Prabir Jana: The project currently uses FDM technique of printing using ABS as well as PLA (PolyLactic Acid) material. PLA is a biopolymer, i.e., a biodegradable plastic. It is made from renewable raw materials such as corn starch or sugarcane, which gives it an additional recyclability option in future. FDM printing was selected due to cost and ease of operability.
SW: What process do you follow for the 3D printing of machine parts or attachments?
Prabir Jana: The machine parts or attachments are carefully studied and redesigned, keeping the functionality same as those of the original components. The designing of component takes place using Auto CAD software and the file is then converted into Standard Tessellation Language (STL) format that any 3D printing machine can understand. The re-designing of component is the most crucial part of the whole concept so that the part can be printed using FDM technology, possess the same functionality, strong enough to run on industrial applications and most importantly, be quick enough to print.