Elevators are essential for accessing a building. Other components, such as air conditioning, are important but not essential for basic use of the building. Without elevators, many workers cannot physically get to their offices.
Elevator manufacturers are seeing more and more usage of 3D printing within their industries. Companies like the Otis Elevator Company and SODIMAS have been pioneers in using 3D printing to reduce production costs as well as development time. Those that use 3D printers are eligible for federal research and development tax credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
Otis Elevator Company
The Otis Elevator Company, known to be the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems, owns a Stratasys 3D printer that they use for the product development stage of manufacturing elevators. The elevator company uses their Stratasys 3D printer for the development of parts, aesthetic mock-ups, and components for test stands. The company invested in 3D printing in the hopes that it would improve turnaround speeds and they are reaping the benefits. With the use of a 3D printer, Otis has been able to shorten product development time.
The innovative elevator manufacturer based in France, SODIMAS, has been a pioneer in utilizing 3D printing for the industry. They use the Fortus 450mc from Stratasys to develop prototypes, helping to reduce production costs. All of their elevator cabins are made from aluminum, but the concept and development of the frames are 3D printed. By using 3D printing, SODIMAS’ prototype production time was reduced by 98%. Not only can 3D printing be used for efficient prototyping, but assembly tools may be 3D printed as well. SODIMAS has printed upwards of fifteen different tools to be used in the production of elevators. These are customized assembly tools that are inexpensive and quick to print while acting as precise guides during fine-tuning of component parts. Another use for 3D printing in the elevator industry is training. Small, mechanically accurate models can be printed with the purpose of demonstrating and teaching elevator mechanics to both staff and customers. SODIMAS previously showcased how their elevators work by having a flat mechanical model mounted on a piece of wood. Though it was an accurate model, it was heavy to carry. A 3D printed elevator model is lightweight while still being accurate and providing a 3D perspective.
KONE, an international elevator company that offers services for new and existing buildings, has been using 3D printing for elevator designs as well as planning to use it for customer service. Their Nouveau Glamour collection includes stainless steel or laminate that is combined with 3D printed glass to create beautiful interiors. KONE CIO Antti Koskelin has also spoken about plans to innovate customer service where spare parts will be 3D printed at the back of KONE service vehicles before technicians even arrive onsite.
German industrial company thyssenkrupp plans on opening its own 3D printing center this year. Thyssenkrupp manufactures elevators as well as steel and submarines. The company plans on using its 3D printing center to produce the plastic and metal used in many of its products. For thyssenkrupp, 3D printers can save money on material costs and production time.
3D printing has proven to be useful and innovative across a range of industries. Elevator manufacturers can make use of 3D printers in prototyping, training, and making customized tools. The technology can improve development time and also reduce production costs. Companies like SODIMAS are also looking to use 3D printing to reduce inventory. Instead of stocking spare parts, manufacturers can use a 3D printer to print spare parts on demand, potentially eliminating stockroom space.
Charles Goulding and Rafaella July of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing applications for elevators.