R&D Tax Credit Aspects of 3D Printed Hand Tools

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Society has come a long way in tool technology since the first tools were used during the Stone Age hundreds of thousands of years ago. Today, like our primal relatives we have adapted and innovated to improve our lifestyles with the aid of hand tools. Taking this a step further we have come to the point where our tools are capable of being produced and ready for use within minutes in large part due to the adaptation of 3D printing methods. 3D printing enables tools to become more accessible and customizable for commercial companies and consumers. Federal and state R&D tax credits are available for new and improved hand tool development.

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.

Advantages of 3D Printing Hand Tools

The future of many industries could lie in the use of 3D printed tools. Numerous industries including automotive, aerospace and industrial manufacturing rely on complex and expensive tools to complete important jobs. With 3D printing, the cost to manufacture such complex tools is reduced because of the printer’s abilities to form difficult geometric configurations on many materials. Without 3D printing many of the tools would have to be custom ordered which can be expensive and time consuming. A 3D printer can have the tools ready within hours or even minutes and save time and money.

Companies Experimenting with 3D Printed Hand Tools

NASA, Washington, D.C., USA

Commander Wilmore with 3D printed ratchet wrench [Image: NASA]

NASA executed an impressive task when they were able to send a 3D printer tool file to the International Space Station. Within hours, the ratchet wrench was sent to the space station and printed. According to NASA.gov it marked the first time a design file had been sent from the ground to make a tool in space. The experiment of sending the tool file has large future implications as many resupplies to space and across the world can take weeks, months or even years; the ability to send and print tools within hours can open endless possibilities.

BMW, Munich, Germany

3D printed tool used to attach rear badges [Image: Stratasys]

The $104 billion in sales auto-maker has turned to digital manufacturing to improve upon many of the hand-held production tools for their luxury vehicles. Automotive assembly and testing involves hand-held tools to be used at several stages requiring workers to have repeatability and ease of use with many tools. The company has the design freedom with 3D printing to improve basic tools as well as develop entirely new hand-held tools to increase the level of comfort for the assembly line workers. According to Stratasys, in one tool, BMW reduced the weight by 72% with a 3D printing methods; the reduced weight is a valuable economic benefit when a worker has to use a tool hundreds of times a day.

Sculpteo, Villejuff, France

Ancillary tool used in surgery [Image: Sculpteo]

The large cloud based 3D printing company reaches a wide range of professionals and general public markets, but recently their 3D printed tools have gained traction in the health care industry. Sculpteo offers tools that can be patient measured to increase the true comfort of otherwise painful surgeries as well as limit the risk of disease and infection contact because of the materials the tools are made out of. The made to measure tools also give surgical practitioners a more precise approach knowing the tool(s) can be tailored to the patient.

Nanosteel, Providence, Rhode Island

Nanosteel tamper resistant tool bit [Image: Nanosteel]

Airline jets require specific tools to perform maintenance on some of the hundreds of thousands of parts to the planes. Nanosteel developed a specific tamper resistant tool to assist in the maintenance of the in-flight entertainment systems for several airlines. The tool minimizes the aircraft and system downtimes to increase productivity and is inexpensive. The part is not easily duplicated, is cost effective and has a useful life far more improved over the traditional tool.

Conclusion

With the evolution of 3D printing methods, the way tools are made and used is being redefined. Full customization and on demand printing is expanding the way several industries are conducting their businesses and providing solutions that are meeting many service operations. The continued growth of 3D printing in the tooling sector should benefit commercial and consumer usage.


Charles Goulding and Ryan Donley of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed hand tools.

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