Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing produces far more than tooling. Shown here is one of the many large format 3D-printed parts made there each year, being inspected with a portable CMM. Click image to enlargeby Staff Writer  |  Photos Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing Inc.

Quebec 3D printing firm redefines the meaning of ingenious

How to produce specialized workholding and other tooling in less time at a lower cost

Use additive manufacturing to 3D print jigs, fixtures, robotic grippers and more

The aerospace industry makes extensive use of very large jigs and fixtures, tooling renowned for its extreme weight, lead times and price tags. In response, François Guilbault and his team at Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing Inc. of Bromont, Que., sought to break this paradigm by using different materials to build tools that are lighter and easier to handle; can be produced in less time; and have more attractive prices than their metal equivalents. 

The material used to make this specialty tooling isn’t a fancy new lightweight type of tool steel or high strength aluminum, but rather plastic, the stuff of soda bottles and leftover food containers. Using a fleet of large format FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printers, Solaxis turns high-strength polymers like PEKK, carbon-filled Nylon, and Ultem 1010 into inspection and assembly jigs, masking and layup tooling, dies for thermo and vacuum forming, ergonomic hand tools, and a host of similar production-grade tooling. 

A technician at Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing prepares a 3D-print job for production on one of the company’s large format Stratasys FDM machines.Click image to enlargeThis unlikely combination of polymers and a 3D extrusion process—admittedly far less accurate than CNC machining, EDM, and grinding—to produce production tooling might leave the industrial engineers in the room shaking their heads. But these plastic tools lets you skip the fork trucks and long lead times without sacrificing accuracy and rigidity. 


Rapid prototyping equals rapid growth
Like the 3D printing industry itself, Solaxis has dealt with significant changes—and challenges—since Guilbault first opened the doors of this small additive manufacturing (AM) firm in 2010. What began as two engineers with the shared vision of “let’s see if we can print some aerospace parts” has become a rapidly growing, high-tech manufacturer known for its proficiency at designing and producing large format 3D-printed products. 

The 3D-printed assembly jig shown here was built in one-third the time it would have taken via conventional means and is now light enough that anyone can carry it around the shop floor. Click image to enlargeIts customers include aerospace and defence firms, where functional prototypes and flight-certified components such as ventilation ducts and aircraft panels are common fare. The company also makes propellers, guards, and fasteners for industrial uses, as well as seats, tanks, steering wheels, and more for automotive or ground transportation applications. 

Solaxis and its ten employees operate a pair of Fortus 400mc and seven F900 Gen III FDM printers from Stratasys, the latter with a build envelope of 914 x 609 x 914 mm (36 x 24 x 36 in.). Any parts larger than this can be spliced together, allowing Solaxis to deliver components and tooling two or more metres in length, such as floor panels for recreational vehicles and oversized recycling containers. They’ve also moved into the laser-based AM     realm by investing in “open” SLS (selective laser sintering) printers from Farsoon Technologies, a step that Guilbault admits was a bit of a gamble. 

“Like us, Farsoon is a relatively new company,” he says. “The equipment is assembled in China but uses American components, with most of the electronics coming from Schneider Electric. But we know that Farsoon has been working with Airbus, so that helped to increase our confidence level, and together with the virtue of it being an open materials system was enough to bring us on board.”


This end-of-arm tool (EOAT) for a robotic application turned a 22-piece assembly into one containing just five parts, reducing its weight by 70 per cent.Click image to enlargeOpening doors
Guilbault is talking about the use of non-proprietary powders from suppliers such as BASF, materials that cost less than those from 3D printer manufacturers who require that customers use only approved powders, resins, reels, and similarly “closed” feedstocks. Not only do open systems reduce material costs—which often represent a significant chunk of the finished product’s price—but they allow more latitude in terms of machine settings and operating parameters. This gives manufacturers like Solaxis greater freedom to develop their own recipes and techniques that might generate a competitive advantage. 

In one example, an industrial manufacturing customer requested a lightweight end-of-arm tool (EOAT) for a robotic application. Solaxis designers took what was originally a 22-component assembly design and reduced it to just five 3D-printed components. This cut the gripper’s weight by 70 per cent, allowing the customer to increase the robot’s speed and throughput. In another EOAT application, a hybrid aluminum-polymer was used, delivering a lighter tool that provided greater performance. 

Solaxis saw similar success with a vehicle manufacturer who needed an assembly jig for a critical sealing component, a jig that could simultaneously validate product compliance. The new tool measured 863 mm x 558 mm (34 in. x 22 in.) and weighed just 12.7 kg. (28 lbs.), 80 per cent lighter than its aluminum predecessor. Furthermore, the tool’s ergonomic design allowed the operator to produce 15 per cent more parts per shift, and by integrating a series of fiberoptic fibers and go/no-go sensors, product quality was assured. 


Turn up the volume
Just because Solaxis has large format FDM equipment doesn’t mean all of the parts produced on it are supersized. As Guilbault explains, they have the option of loading the machine table with multiple small parts, often from different jobs. Because the Stratasys equipment has automatic spool changing capabilities, they can then let the printer run unattended for shifts or even days at a time. This tactic is also being used on the newer SLS equipment, where nests of parts can fill the build chamber to its maximum height, significantly improving machine utilization. 

“Solaxis has had great success over the years,” says Guilbault. “We’re now pushing into the medical sector and are developing our own in-house testing capabilities to ensure 3D-printed part quality. I’ve found that large format 3D printers give us economies of scale not possible with smaller machines, together with the flexibility to take on big work as needed. And for components that exceed our printing range, my designers have developed some very robust joining methods that eliminate any potential for delamination and allow us to build practically any size part requested. Granted, it’s been a steep learning curve for all of us, but I’m quite pleased with our direction and look forward to continued growth.” SMT

Analyzing chip formation

Sandvik Coromant analyzes chip formation

New tools for hybrid stacked materials

The JC899 Hybrid Stack finisher and JC898 rougher from Seco Tools are ideal solutions for holemaking and milling operations in hybrid stacked materials.

Stringer Success

Article by Kip Hanson | Photos by Deny Cardinal

Quebec aerospace manufacturer expands aluminum machining capabilities with extrusion mill

Shaping up

by Tim Wilson

Canada's die and mould industry is on an upswing

Barrel cutter Shapes: A Cutting-Edge Trend

Andrei Petrilin

Changes in barrel milling cutters have resulted in more flexible and versatile endmills

Iscar, Megatel event showcases machining, cutting technologies

Iscar and Megatel held a joint event at Iscar's Oakville, ON facility recently to showcase the latest in machining and cutting strategies.

A balanced investment

Quebec machine shop’s focus on complex, tight tolerance work calls for high-end toolholding

As a shop serving the aerospace, defense and high-tech industries, APN Inc., Quebec City, QC, must provide customers with parts that are as close to perfect as possible. Extremely complex, high precision and difficult-to-machine components are APN’s specialty. Key to producing such parts to the highest industry standards, as well as faster and more accurately than the competition, is the shop’s expertise in high speed, high performance three axis and five axis milling. 

Blast Away

by Kip Hanson

Asking the Impossible

by Andrew Brooks

An insistent customer helped Fidelity get used to going above and beyond

Rego-Fix partners with Belder Tool in Ontario

Rego-Fix Tool Corp., Indianapolis, IN, has partnered with Belder Tool Solutions, a firm of manufacturers' representatives in Hamilton, ON.

Multiple flute end mills

SGS Tool has added the new Multi-Carb to its high performance end mill product offering. The Multi-Carb incorporates a large number of flutes for stability and high feed finishing capabilities in applications where surface finish and tolerance are critical factors. The large flute count design allows smoother cutting performance and increased tool life, positively impacting productivity, quality levels, and cost efficiencies.

Joseph Tabri to head Komet in Canada

Joseph Tabri is the new president at Komet of Canada Tooling Solutions, Newmarket, ON.

Gold-coated tooling clearly indicates wear

New Tiger·tec Gold PVD grade WSP45G from Walter pushes the boundaries of what a cutting tool material can be expected to accomplish.

Hydraulic chuck

The CoroChuck 903 from Sandvik Coromant is a hydraulic chuck for milling and drilling operations.

Stay In Touch

twitter facebook linkedIn