Working with additive manufacturing production specialist 3DPRINTUK helped a start-up supplier of cycling accessories scale its business quickly. But even when 76 Products decided to invest in its own 3D printing machine, it still recognised the benefits of working with a trusted partner on short to medium run production, as MEPCA found out.
Specialist manufacturer, 76 Projects is a fast-growing start-up company run by its co-founders and owners Robert Johnson and Paul Robertson. The company’s ethos is to create performance-oriented cycling products that offer a genuine advantage over anything already in the market. The company’s success is reflected in its brand’s rapid growth and an increasing number of collaborations in which 76 Projects provides development and manufacturing services to bring its clients’ products to the market.
Paul explained how the company began working with 3DPRINTUK: “We had to develop a trusted relationship with key suppliers for the manufacturing side of our business, and we wanted that to be with UK-based companies. 3DPRINTUK fitted that profile and quickly became a key manufacturing partner for us. In fact, the company’s team supported us on our growth trajectory to a point where we have now invested in our own additive manufacturing (AM) solution.”
The 76 Projects team started researching the viability of investing in its own industrial-grade AM machine more than three years ago. It’s a significant investment, however, one that the company believed necessary to support the production of large part prototypes for some key clients. The in-house industrial 3D printing capability and capacity will add value to the business with the control that it brings, but one single machine will never meet all of the company’s manufacturing requirements. As such, 76 Projects will continue to partner with 3DPRINTUK for the manufacture of parts.
Paul and Robert were first introduced to AM some 15 years ago, using the technology as a fast and efficient way to speed up product development and to prove and sign off parts for injection moulding. Since then, power-based AM methods used for prototyping have become a feasible production solution. The key mechanics of the processes have not changed that much, but they have evolved significantly such that the associated costs, consistent quality, and levels of finishing have improved dramatically.
The adoption of AM as a production process has required a change of thinking in the design phase of products, as Paul explained: “We have had to alter the way we think and design to gain the maximum benefit and freedom from the 3D printing process. It has taken us a while to get away from designing for injection moulding and the inherent limiting parameters such as draft, wall thickness, core access, and so on.
“Our TT mount is a great example here; it is solely designed for 3D printing. It has sold over 3000 units, and it is used by professional triathletes and cycling teams worldwide. We did investigate going down the injection moulding route, but it was cost-prohibitive to produce four or more tools with complicated movable cores. Going down the AM route we could create geometry that could not be achieved by injection moulding and this enabled the mount’s unique 3D adjustability that is key to its success. 3D printing also allowed us to enter the market with low financial risk and continually fine-tune the design. We have now developed several other unique products following the same process and use the initial product runs to gauge market interest. For such a small start-up, this would not otherwise be economically viable using traditional techniques.”
According to Paul, the partnership with 3DPRINTUK is a vital one for 76 Products: “We started working with Nick, Connor and the team in 2017, and they have been instrumental in the development of our company from the early days of testing and trialling product ideas. The company’s instant online quote tool enabled us to quickly consider the most cost-effective way to produce something in SLS via quantity, size and finish. The costing algorithm is geared not only to prototypes but also production quantities. It incorporates suitable economies of scale where other services multiply the price of a prototype.”