3D printing technology offers countless opportunities to transform the manufacturing industry. 3D printers have expanded a company’s operational capabilities to encompass the use of rapid prototyping. These new developments include 3D printing pumps. Manufacturing pump components can be a costly process, making 3D printing the perfect solution for companies to take advantage of. Materials used for 3D printing pumps can range from polylactic acid to stainless steel, presenting enormous opportunities for companies who adopt the technology in order to improve their bottom line. 3D printing pump components has become particularly beneficial for those who produce complex castings for many pumps including centrifugal pumps, water and sewage pumps, turbine pumps, transfer pumps, fluid flow pumps and many more. Increasing fabrication speed and efficiency while maintaining accuracy and precision are present challenges for manufacturers, and have spurred innovation within the industry to lower costs and deliver a better product to customers. Companies who are putting the power of 3D printing to the test may be eligible to take federal and state Research and Development Tax Credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Companies in various industries, including firms that utilize 3D printing technologies have been taking advantage of the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit since 1981. Firms can receive 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.
3D Printing Approaches for Pumps
There are two common approaches when 3D printing components for pumps, namely ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), a thermoplastic approach typically used for injection molding (e.g. LEGO), and PLA (Polylactic Acid), a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources which are commonly used for bioplastics. Both ABS and PLA are applicable for prototyping air pumps. ABS 3D printed components are useful for flexibility and tensile strength while PLA is optimal for rapid prototyping. Depending on the purpose of the pump, ABS can tolerate up to 221° F and PLA up to 140° F. The future use for 3D printing pumps are growing for manufacturers who want to reduce errors in parts they produce for industrial and commercial pumps. These are low cost approaches, and other materials are a variable. High-end manufacturers are using sintered metals to achieve high strengths in new applications such as automotive and aerospace industries.
3D printing components for pumps can be utilized to overcome limitations design engineers encounter throughout conventional manufacturing processes. Not only can molds and castings for pumps take weeks to create, but the accuracy and granular details that are needed to produce reliable components are not guaranteed. 3D printing expands the opportunity for designs with complex geometries while simultaneously supporting a manufacturer’s ability to rapidly produce castings.
The 3D Printing Process for Water Pumps
Determining which approach to implement can be difficult, but largely depends upon the end use of the pump as each method has its advantages and setbacks. In regards to water pumps, primary factors that are built into the 3D printing approach include strength, thermal stability, biodegradability, and machinability. For example, while ABS is more durable and heat-resistant than PLA, prints made using the ABS approach are prone to warping, presenting a problem when the application involves coming into contact with both hot and cold water. The PLA approach, on the other hand, can result in prints with higher aesthetics due to the ability to print parts with very fine details, made possible by its lower printing temperatures.
As mentioned previously, 3D printing can be used to achieve flexible and rapid prototyping for pump components that require unique designs and shapes. The 3D printing process for water pumps begins with designing STL files to print for all applicable parts. STL files are CAD files used when developing three-dimensional object geometries, as well as during the design process of rapid prototyping. The chosen motor for the pump should be one that will not overheat when in contact with water. After choosing the best motor, designing the base, top and two turbines can be done properly. This design process can be an iterative one, as it requires functionality testing throughout.
Once all desired parts are complete, assembly can then take place. Soldering the cables to the motor can help to improve the durability and stability of the component by holding it in place. Ongoing experimentation throughout the process will allow for design changes that enable the output of more or less water to occur in the final product. Designs that undergo a series of changes in the development process are examples of activities that help companies qualify for R&D tax incentives.
Room for Improvement
The pairing of 3D printing and CAD software shows great potential for improving the overall manufacturing processes in the pump industry. With lower costs and reduction in lead times, manufacturing 3D printed components is proving to be a driver for innovation. Currently, most components are manufactured in bulk which is ultimately a simplified and less costly process for manufacturers. With 3D printing, however, manufacturers can produce complex and unique products in smaller quantities, while also decreasing production costs from their investment. Furthermore, 3D printing allows for increased storage space in a warehouse when taking into consideration the number of design files that will be stored electronically for easy future access. In the case of pumps and their components, conventional manufacturing methods are inefficient when considering the process improvements that 3D printing technologies have to offer.
Manufacturers are adopting new technologies and processes that will ultimately improve their competitive position in the industry. With evolving 3D printing solutions in place, companies are constantly finding new ways to create their products more efficiently and at a lower cost. Overall, incremental costs are not increased to produce 3D printed pump components, allowing for manufacturers to experiment with increasingly complex designs, some of which are currently unavailable on the market. Utilizing 3D printing approaches for producing pumps and their components equips manufacturers with activities that are eligible in order to take advantage of R&D tax credits, which are available to stimulate innovation.
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Charles Goulding and Tricia Genova of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed pumps.