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May 22

Bell & Howell: Prototyping to Direct Digital Manufacturing with 3D Printing

Real Challenge

Bell & Howell is a producer of quality optics-based products. The company makes equipment such as high-end production scanners, high-speed mail-handling systems, sorting and inserting equipment, and electronic mail and messaging systems. The scanner division in Lincolnwood, IL builds leading-edge high-speed scanners that can quickly transform reams of paper documents into electronic files.

Prior to purchasing a Fortus system, Bell & Howell’s design cycle was typically 18 months. Mike Scheller, Director of Mechanical Engineering at Bell & Howell, says that switching to additive manufacturing payed dividends during their design and development processes.
“On average, we brought that down to about nine months: one-half the time it used to take. Much of that improvement is due to the fused deposition modelling (FDM) process utilized by Stratasys' Production Series printers. With it, components fit together better; we have a better idea of the aesthetics; and we have much better design review than in the past.”


A component called the flag hold-down (circled in yellow) is a part that was identified for direct digital manufacturing.


The components were built via additive manufacturing in batches of 50, using fused deposition modelling (FDM).



Engineers used FDM to redesign and improve assembly components in one of their high-end scanner models, in order to compete for a multi-million dollar contract. Utilizing FDM meant that these improvements occurred much faster than they could have if traditional processes were utilized. After just five months, the scanner re-design was complete and the company won the contract.

Real Solution

Like a number of progressive companies, Bell & Howell has learned that additive fabrication systems like FDM can be employed for direct digital manufacturing of parts for end use.

In the process of redesigning the assembly, engineers determined that the quality of a component called the flag hold-down, built on the FDM system, was better than needed to perform its job. And because they needed under 2000 units per year, the company could manufacturer them in bulk on the FDM system rather than order them from a molding company. They were able to manufacture the parts in batches of 50 and install them directly in the end-product.

According electro-mechanical technician Michael Jones, the ability to use their Fortus Production system for more than simply prototyping has further improved their workflow significantly.
“It’s advantageous to have the capability to go beyond prototyping with the printer. If a supply company failed to deliver a plastic part for some reason, we could prevent a production stoppage by building the parts on the FDM machine. Another advantage is if we planned to change a component design after a relatively short time, it might be more cost effective to build our own parts rather than pay a molding company for tooling and production.”


Like Bell & Howell, countless 3D printing users have found a diverse range of applications that extend far beyond simply creating prototypes. As Canada's leader in additive manufacturing, Cimetrix Solutions has been the country's industry leaders find new and diverse applications 3D printing, allowing them to take advantage of all the benefits that additive manufacturing technology has to offer. To see how we can help you get the most out of your 3D printer, visit us at www.cimetrixsolutions.com.
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