In today’s rapidly changing world, innovation is becoming increasingly important. Although it may not be difficult to come up with a good idea, the main problem often lies in its rapid implementation. In this respect, 3D printing is the right tool to solve such situations efficiently. For example, engineering company Seco Tools successfully used the Original Prusa 3D Printer to complete an order for car manufacturer Škoda Auto, achieving the almost unimaginable – reducing the time from prototype creation to production launch to just two months!

Škoda Auto, a member of the VW Group, is one of the largest industrial employers in the Czech Republic. In recent years, Škoda Auto has focused on innovation and optimization of its production processes, which is key to success in the highly competitive automotive industry. In this case, Škoda Auto turned to Petr Zeman, a Seco Tools sales representative, to help optimize a cutting tool for the production of a specific gearbox part that had been identified as a “bottleneck” in the production process: The production of this part required the use of three different ISO tools and took almost 51 seconds (which is a lot in the automotive industry).

Škoda was therefore looking for a solution to reduce machining time and increase production capacity. Seco Tools’ technical specialist, Milan Kudrnáč, proposed an innovative solution – a combined cutting tool capable of performing all the necessary operations. The Original Prusa MK3S+ 3D printer played a key role, enabling Seco to produce 1:1 physical models of the new tools in a matter of hours.

Time and Cost Savings, Improved Communication

Subsequently, these models were prepared and presented to Škoda within just four days. Preparation and testing of the new tool took another two weeks, allowing the introduction into regular operation about eight weeks from the start of the project.

The result was a reduction in machining time to 40.2 seconds, which represents a saving of 10.7 seconds (more than 20% of the original cycle time of the operation). This innovative solution brought Škoda Auto savings of more than 10,000 EUR in costs for a single year.

Old tool against new tool. A €10,000 difference! Source: Seco Tools

3D printing significantly saved time and costs for designers. The standard prototyping process takes weeks: With a 3D printer, a designer can print their design, examine it from all angles, and continue working on it, or send it directly to production and further testing. The ability to hold a physical design in one’s hands compared to a digital model is invaluable. It was with the first printed prototype that shortcomings were discovered, which were not apparent from the digital preview. And the designer would normally find out about this perhaps only after the prototype had been made at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of euros.

The approval process and communication between Seco Tools and Škoda Auto were also accelerated – presenting a 1:1 model a few days after the assignment is always better than coming up with a drawing and vision.

More efficient operation and better collaboration

Thanks to this project, Škoda Auto is enjoying a reduction in direct annual tooling costs of €10,650! In addition, the new specialized tool brought other savings: Its price is lower than the price of the original three ISO tools. The biggest benefit of this solution was the elimination of the “bottleneck” in the production process, which improved the overall production flow and significantly reduced the waiting time for the second spindle of the CNC machining center before performing subsequent operations on the workpiece. Shorter machining times also reduced the consumption of compressed air for cooling and chip removal from the cutting zone.

Based on this positive experience, the company plans to use this approach in future projects. This solution was also successful in an internal innovation competition, which contributed to its implementation in other VW Group plants.

Ing. Ivan Slimák, executive director of the Škoda Auto production plant in Vrchlabí, is very positive about the project, especially the efficient cooperation between Škoda Auto and Seco Tools – not only in terms of cost savings. In his view, the greatest benefit is the opportunity to share experiences and the professional and personal development of the employees involved. “It is very important to show that Czech industry can keep up with the world in the field of new technologies and that it has capable people who can successfully develop these activities further,” he says. The example of Seco Tools shows the benefits that 3D printing can bring – and that was just the first project!

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