Tuomas Moilanen, the quality and tooling manager at V.A.V. Group knows what it takes to cater to the needs of both new and existing clients. One of his responsibilities is designing, manufacturing, and testing the custom-made tools that are unique. 3D printing is a modern and efficient way of making the right tool for the right job.
Meet the brief
“The first step is always the customer’s need for a certain profile. Together with our salesperson and the customer’s representative, we gather all the necessary information to see how we could find the right solution. Careful planning is crucial because that’s how we can find the right manufacturing process for the said profile and, obviously, calculate the costs”, says Moilanen. Once the project has been green-lighted, the process itself is rather swift: “Within two weeks we have designed and 3D-printed the tool and are ready to make the prototype for the customer”, Moilanen estimates. Usually, it only takes minor tweaks here and there to reach the final product, which is simply fine-tuning the tool by hand.
V.A.V. Group works closely with their customers to avoid any mistakes. “The customer usually knows the basic needs of their new profile – shape, material, heat resistance, etc. Most customers deliver all the information along with images, blueprints, and measurements, but if those are unavailable or the customer is placing their first order, our salespeople are experts in their field and help the customer with the specifications.
Custom is the new standard
V.A.V. Group has used a 3D printer since 2017 but the custom tools go back a long way. EDM wire cutters are still relatively common but the efficiency of a 3D printer is unbeatable, says Moilanen: “3D printing is not always faster than EDM wire cutting, but it’s more efficient, as the printer can handle several tools and does most of the work. All we need to do is tiny adjustments by hand – and often not even that. The printer is so much more accurate than any welder or cutter”. Moilanen estimates that the amount of custom tools is counted in thousands by now, given the fact that he has already designed nearly 50 of them in 2021 alone.
Aside from a few staple profiles, every profile is unique and requires a tool of its own. Even though the term “custom made” is linked to a higher price tag in our consumer minds, it’s the complete opposite in B2B solutions. Tuomas Moilanen has a simple explanation: “It’s either a custom tool or altering common profiles. By running the quick math you will soon notice one custom tool that is technically eternal will make every inch of the profile cheaper the more you produce”.
3D printing as a service
Besides printing their own custom tools for individual needs, V.A.V. Group offers 3D printing as a service to third parties as well. “For smaller manufacturers, purchasing an industrial 3D printer for metal tools is not cost-efficient, so they can outsource it to us”, says Tuomas Moilanen. There are only a handful of such 3D printers in Finland, most of which in vocational colleges or universities. “We are the northernmost manufacturer doing custom tools with a printer, but there are plenty of potential customers nearby, so we are more than happy to help out now that we have the proper equipment for making versatile custom tools that last. Very often when a tool or part breaks down, the shipping of spare parts takes a lot longer than designing, printing and delivering the custom part would take”, Moilanen adds.