Visit to Keech 3D Advanced Manufacturing

On Wednesday November 22, twenty seven Club members assembled at Keech’s 3D Advanced Manufacturing facility in East Bendigo, where we were met by Garth Keech.

After initial introductions and a brief history of Keech, we split into 2 parties one starting at one end of the facility and the other starting at the other.

The tour group I was on was guided by Garth Keech; we started with an overview of what Keech was doing with its 3D scanning, printing and materials engineering capabilities. The product range was extensive from scanning the human body to produce Mini ME’s of celebrities through to today’s primary focus on the manufacturing of replacement parts and innovative new products mainly for mining, rail, defence and agriculture companies. As a demonstration of what 3D printing was capable of, Garth showed us a Sphere of intermeshing watch sized gears that all moved; move one of the gears and all of the others moved with it.

This complex little demonstration piece was printed as a complete running machine; no post printing assembly was required.  Each of the tiny gears bearing clearances was printed at the same time as the gears were being formed. Garth explained that 3D printing from either laser scans or directly from the designer’s computers was an innovation accelerator; it cuts down production times and gives more flexibility during the design process. We use our 3D innovation process to deliver better solutions to our customers faster than the rest the industry, this is our competitive edge. Our process has reduced the time to manufacture some products from two years down to six months.

Garth then showed us the 3D printer room where Keech can print parts from watch sizes up to 1 meter across, larger components are produced by printing building blocks with built in keys that can be interlocked together. Garth explained that everything from ceramics, metals, plastics, and even sand can be 3D printed.

All of these materials behave differently, but because we understand material and material behaviour; we can use different materials during model building phases of design and correct the design for just how the final production materials will perform in the customer’s application. For example, if we are making a steel product, we don’t have to immediately go to a steel prototype. We can first do this in ABS plastic and conduct a theoretical test and relate that to how steel would react in the same circumstance. So while we still do final testing in the end product, we cut down the amount of testing, design cost and time to market dramatically. Garth then took us through the traditional pattern shop he explained that wood in the old days was more stable than what is available today for this reason besides using wood in classic sand casting patterns newer manmade materials are also used.

Finally Garth took us through to the pattern storage room. It was huge and contained a very large number of patterns. Garth explained that if a customer called and said can you make us more of the parts you made years ago, it is likely that they can pull the stored pattern and make new parts. Keech’s 3D facility is a wonderful fusion of old and new tech that clearly works very well together. It is great to have this type of talent and capability in Bendigo. We wrapped up at 5:30pm I think it is safe to say we all walked away with a much better appreciation of what advanced manufacturing is about.

Story by Richard Paynting, photos by Colin Butler