Wiring is not sexy, but, several times in 3D printing, I’ve seen production grind to a halt over essential wire guides and holders. Just recently, production at several large vehicle manufacturers ceased completely because their wire harness manufacturing was located in Ukraine. Enter Q5D, a UK-based firm that has just released its latest solution for automated wire harness manufacturing, the CY1000, which combines subtractive and additive manufacturing (AM) to create these crucial parts.
With a 1000mm by 300mm build volume, the CY1000 is a production cell featuring a five-axis robot with interchangeable toolheads. It has been created to be a fully automated solution to 3D print parts, add conductive materials, components, and connectors, and then pick-and-place them onto other parts made out of plastic, metal, or ceramic. The unit can 3D print in polymers such as PEEK and print conductive wire.
Now, you can put one of these in your factory and produce wire harnesses in-house. The machine can be set up as part of a production line or used as a single cell. The robotic arm also joins up all the necessary parts into a final assembly. It can add components to existing large parts. In the future, the company aims to incorporate the use of conductive inks, in addition to copper wiring it relies on now.
“Almost all wiring harnesses in this $200B+ market are made by hand at present. With the demand for wiring driven by electrification, the internet of things, and net zero, automation is the only way to keep pace,” said Q5D CEO, Steven Bennington.
The Wonderful World of Wires
Timely production and delivery of wire harnesses is key. Traditionally, companies have seen this as a cost center element, best outsourced to however far away they can get away with. However, new worries about resilience and a focus on national production have lead to people looking for new solutions for wire harnesses.
Many complex machines, devices, and vehicles have these devices in them. They are either assembled in-house or by other specialized factories and vendors, often in other countries. They have to arrive at the factory just in time to be plugged into the rest of the machine and perform this task well. Any issue with this key component will lead to delays. A car engine could have a 100 wires leading into it, while the car itself could have 1.5 Kilometers of wire in it. An aircraft, meanwhile, may have, “500 km of cables, over 100,000 wires, and more than 40,000 connectors.”
Q5D pulled in $2.7 million in seed funding last February and it’s not difficult to see why. The startup is addressing an incredibly vast market here. Rather than focus on the $13.5 billion revenue AM market, the company has bigger fish to fry. Wire harnesses are complex, necessary, and more costly than they need to be. A CY1000 machine may enable a company to be more responsive and allow it respond to orders more quickly, especially in high-mix, low-volume manufacturing. This is also a promising solution for manufacturers of high-end electronics, machinery, and vehicles.
The increased speed and local production could really make supply chains more resilient or increase time to market. It would be worthwhile to see if companies would look to deploying these systems in advanced economies in order to serve large OEMs. It may be a great niche to use one of these to make wire harnesses that get to customers faster and, perhaps in some cases, are more low-cost than those produced by hand. Labor everywhere is getting scarcer and more expensive. Manufacturing sorely needs the CY1000 or something like it in order to respond to an increasingly competitive, fickle, and brutal global market for advanced goods.
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