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Westec Plastics First Molder to Acquire Game

Jul 11, 2023Jul 11, 2023

Joe Darrah | Aug 03, 2023

An emerging type of 3D-printing technology that is expected to help usher in a new era of speed, flexibility, and efficiency for tooling capabilities has found its first home in medical device manufacturing.

Westec Plastics, a custom plastic injection molder and tool builder based in Livermore, CA, recently became the first company to acquire the P-200 metal 3D printer from Mantle Inc., the award-winning manufacturer known for its TrueShape technology process that combines CNC machining with 3D printing.

Launched in September 2022 prior to the annual MAPP Benchmarking Conference, the P-200 is a hybrid system built on the CNC platform that integrates 3D printing of metal pastes with precision machining to produce parts with advanced accuracy and surface finish for tooling. Equipped with self-programming capabilities and user-friendly software that offers drag-and-drop file functionality, the P-200 is reportedly highly intuitive to operate and enhances overall workflow efficiency.

Westec’s acquisition of the printer marks the first time the technology will live on the manufacturing floor after previously being beta tested in the research and development space. According to executives at Westec, the device will help their organization to better serve its customers and keep the company at the forefront of providing innovative technologies. “With Mantle, we can provide our customers a service they can’t get anywhere else,” said Westec President Tammy Barras. “Using Mantle’s technology, we can complete up to 70% of the job and have our toolmakers handle the specialized steps that only humans can do.”

Barras says that the unique capabilities of the P-200 will slash production timelines.

“Mantle uses a different technology than any other steel tool printing machine,” she explained. “It uses a steel paste to print thin layers of steel, dries it, and then machines it before printing and machining layer by layer to complete the build. Plus, the printing holds a tight tolerance of 0.001 in. and requires very little post-printing machining, making it a perfect link for in-house tooling. Other machines use a steel powder that typically employs lasers to weld the powder into a solid.”

Mantle’s equipment also performs all the programming of paths and tool usage while building the steel insert, so Westec does not have to actually program the machine, but can use the TrueShape software, Barras said.

With the Mantle P-200 metal 3D printer, Westec has reportedly transformed its production timelines, allowing the company to build a tool insert in as few as two to four weeks, compared to its previous 12-week lead time. The P-200 also enables Westec representatives to engage with customers earlier in the design process by printing prototype inserts in P20 or H13, reportedly promising unmatched precision and quality. With its exceptional tolerances, the P-200 is also said to minimize post-work required on printed inserts to further streamline the manufacturing process. The accelerated production timeline enables Westec to deliver samples quickly, expediting the entire production submission process. The printer has a build volume of 200 x 200 x 150 mm.

“Having the Mantle equipment in house will enable Westec to complete prototype and production steel tooling inserts — either P20 or H13 — with a much shorter lead time than standard mold builds,” Barras said. “Mantle inserts are about 70 to 80% complete from the sintering oven, which allows our toolmakers to focus only on finishing work, instead of having to start from a raw block of steel. This will benefit our customers by providing production-quality steel tooling with aluminum tooling lead times.”

An organization that also provides third-party domestic and overseas tooling options, Westec is further positioned to maximize the utilization of this type of technology, according to Barras. “Based on the size of the program — tool size and quantity of tools, lead time requirements, or costs ­— we will decide which option will work best to meet our customers’ needs,” she said. “The in-house bandwidth of our team generally will only allow for a single tool build at a time, when we often win tooling programs consisting of five to 15 molds at a time.”

The Mantle P-200 also offers Westec the flexibility to customize the insert size to accommodate different mold bases. By minimizing the need to build entire tools, Westec expects to significantly reduce costs, lead times, and shipping expenses.

According to a press release issued by the company, Westec aims to share the benefits of this groundbreaking technology beyond its own operations. Besides already working with several interested customers, Westec plans to make the Mantle P-200 accessible to other molders, providing support and boosting manufacturing capabilities.

Both Westec and Mantle reportedly share a common vision of elevating toolmaking and manufacturing in the United States, making it more attainable based on the skill level of the current workforce.

According to Barras, more than 60% of Westec’s business is currently medical-based, including pharmaceutical, bio-med, diagnostics, and medical devices. The company is currently working on several different diagnostic programs, including sepsis, semen count tests, sexually transmitted diseases, strep throat, and bronchial viruses.

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