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Packaging Focus Brought Into Design of Desktop 3D Printer

Manufacturer looking to launch a new line of 3D printers sees the value of having packaging and manufacturing engineers work collaboratively from the get-go.

Packaging Focus Brought Into Design of Desktop 3D Printer

Companies driven by innovation are most effective when stakeholder input is incorporated early and often. That was especially true for Stratasys, a manufacturer of 3D printing equipment and materials, partnered with Chainalytics to design its Mojo 3D desktop printer.

The Mojo story began with a phone call. In late 2010, the Chainalytics packaging optimization team was invited to a new, and previously undisclosed, Stratasys location, a “skunkworks” facility in downtown Minneapolis launched for the purpose of product innovation. The facility was developing not only a new product but an entirely new 3D technology platform. 

At the time, Stratasys’s manufacturing department was responsible for packaging design and testing, and it had previously utilized Chainalytics to resolve other packaging challenges. Most of those projects involved the analysis and redesign of existing packaging for products that could not pass distribution testing. 

As it happened, Chainalytics was working with Stratasys on another project when the Mojo opportunity surfaced. In the existing project, the Chainalytics team was developing a simpler way to navigate a very thorough legacy document for packaging testing. The result was a software tool later called “Ship Test Pro.” The tool was delivered within the same time frame as Mojo; and in fact, it was used while testing the new desktop printer.

While completing earlier redesign work, Chainalytics had counseled Stratasys that it is easier, faster and cheaper to resolve packaging challenges when packaging engineering is involved well before product designs are locked in. “I had been preaching to manufacturing engineers to bring us to the table even in the design phase,” says Eric Carlson, senior manager at Chainalytics. “It wouldn't cost that much in terms of manufacturing, but it would result in a product basically built for transportation and not just for manufacturability.”

At the skunkworks, Carlson, was introduced to a new product code-named Solo, says Jeff Tronnes, principal manufacturing engineer at Stratasys. “This was the earliest we had ever brought in packaging design people.” Version 8, the model under review, was neither functional nor completely assembled. The initial assessment identified a list of product design concerns and potential fragilities from a packaging engineering perspective. 

The technology for 3D printing relies on the very precise control of X, Y and Z directions to build parts or products layer by layer. Thus, the primary concern was to assure that all three axes had some type of lockdown location and device. The best option was for the machine, a mechanical lockdown restraint, had not yet been considered by the design team.

The other obvious concern was the size, composition and hollow geometry of the hood. Its thin wall contacted the perimeter of the upper deck and did not have any additional internal support structure. Other weaknesses, including hinges and a pin subject to shearing, were identified.

These needed to be dealt with because Mojo, which sells for nearly $10,000, is no toy, says Carlson. It's shipped by small-parcel carrier and needs to withstand damage, which generally means knocking delicate internal mechanisms from their tolerance standards. “When you send a file to the printer, you want it to print that thing, not something slightly different,” Carlson says. “These guys are the Cadillac of 3D printing; they won't stand for something out of tolerance.”

Subsequent meetings with a cross-functional team from Stratasys (including product designers, manufacturing and product managers) introduced Chainalytics to the product design criteria. Targets for all pertinent aspects of the product were outlined, including packaging and shipping. The product manager specifically required the packaging design to incorporate an easy “out of box experience” (OOBE) for the customer similar to that of an inkjet printer.

As a standard part of Chainalytics’ design process, a Packaging Attribute Matrix (PAM) was compiled, listing all packaging attributes that might impact the final design.

Ultimately, a stakeholders' scorecard ranked OOBE ranked second, with product protection deemed the most important design attribute. However, one of the main OOBE objectives was to ship the product fully assembled, which meant keeping the hood attached.

Chainalytics suggested fragility testing to objectively identify any potential weaknesses in the design. Prior to that, Chainalytics developed restraints for the X, Y and Z axes to eliminate internal movements and assure belt tension, a key to quality.  

Many product changes were introduced during the transition from Version 9 to Version 10, and some revealed additional potential problem areas. Carlson and his team persuaded the industrial designers to make changes. Chainalytics was also successful in getting a feature added to the material bay housing.

A second round of fragility testing with the new version indicated that the product should be able to withstand shocks up to 30g.

By this time, Chainalytics had finished developing its Ship Test Pro. Fully customizable, it develops a complete distribution test protocol based on very simple product and shipping attribute inputs. Fortunately, the protocol did not require drop heights that would demand so much cushioning that the packaging design would exceed the size of small parcel size limits – another OOBE constraint. 

During later transitions from version to version, Chainalytics developed complimentary versions of the X, Y, and Z restraints. An accessory box was also developed for peripheral start-up needs. The contents included a wide variety of components; as such, Chainalytics lobbied to have the box location and its contents fit into the oven (i.e., inside the machine). The drop height of 24 inches and Mojo's nearly 60-pound weight put the cushioning thickness at four inches of foam.  Chainalytics developed a pair of elaborate end caps assuring there was a full four inches of expanded polyethylene foam on each side to cushion the printer. Because of its size and weight, a double wall corrugated box was necessary. 

The final packaged product underwent more distribution testing and passed without any damage. All final packaging design specifications were sent directly to Stratasys’s corrugate and foam supplier. 

As an afterword, it was learned that one of the very first shipments from Minneapolis to California ended in a damaged product. The Stratasys management team immediately performed drop tests, says Tronnes. After repeated attempts to “break” Mojo, no one could replicate the failure. Tronnes finally discovered that a shipping manager had opened the box prior to shipping, decided there was not enough foam inside, and without consulting anyone, added more foam to the box. The result was a large increase in static loading on all faces. In the end, it was a reminder that information should flow with the product to all stakeholders, even shipping managers.

In fact, says Tronnes, there have been zero failures, zero returns of Mojo. “I think this partnership was critical to the launch of this product.”

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