3D printing speeds crash test dummy development
Humanetics ATD saves weeks and 'hundreds of dollars each time' molds are created for new parts.
Burlington, Mass. — While crash-test dummies may seem one-size-fits-all manikins easily manufactured en masse, in reality they are high-tech testing devices. What’s more, end-users – from auto makers and airlines to space agencies and military branches — often require unique combinations of physical proportions and sophisticated electronic components.
The growing demand for custom dummies lead Humanetics Innovative Solutions — which designs and manufactures anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs) – to start using 3D printing technology for its product development and manfuacturing processes. For the Huron, Ohio-based company, that meant a high-definition Zprinter from Zcorp.
“ZPrinting lets us make new parts for the client in a day and a half instead of the week or more it takes when we need to machine new steel or aluminum molds,” said Humanetics Project Engineer Kris Sullenberger. “It’s also probably a 10-to-one cost savings in materials and machine work, meaning we save hundreds of dollars each time.”
Sullenberger’s team purchased its 3D printer four years ago, during the second Iraq war, when the US Department of Defense needed a head model to test a new generation of goggles and face shields. The head model consisted of a dozen segments representing facial bones, each having impact data collection sensors. Sullenberger’s team 3D printed patterns, mold boxes and silicon molds for the dummy’s the urethane parts.
“From start to finish, the whole product – design, building, testing and shipping – took six months. It would have taken three months of machine time alone to make aluminum molds,” Sullenberger said. “And revisions would have been a nightmare. Instead, we just reprinted and repoured anytime we needed a change.”
Today, Humanetics is printing about 200 parts a year and often multiple parts per build. At peak, Sullenberger says his team runs the ZPrinter 24/7 for three weeks straight.
Although most of Humanetics’ ZPrinting is for mold and pattern production, the company also prints samples for marketing and sales, often helping explain concepts better than words or CAD images.
“We’ll send complete scaled-down dummies to clients, including senior executives and other non-technical professionals, or we’ll send detailed models that help explain new designs,” Sullenberger said. “People often don’t know what they’re looking at in a picture. But it drives the information home when you print a part, split it in half, and let the person pick up the pieces, examine the internals, and put them together themselves.”