Eckhart, a US-based leader in advanced industrial solutions, has positioned itself at the forefront of Industry 4.0 through its application of cutting-edge technologies such as additive manufacturing.

Based in Warren, Michigan, the company is committed to improving the lives of factory-floor workers through safety, reliability and efficiency in manufacturing, for industries ranging from medical devices to automotive.

“Industry 4.0 is really the ecosystem that is a smart factory,” says Andrew Storm, Eckhart’s CEO. “It takes all of the systems in a factory, ties them together to help not only those who manage the process, but also to help the employees on the factory floor become more informed on the health of the system.”

“Ninety percent of Fortune 500 manufacturing CEOs believe adopting Industry 4.0 technologies is imperative,” adds Dan Burseth, Vice-President of Eckhart. “And we build technology implementation plans with some of the largest manufacturers in the world, designing tools, equipment and automation that truly improve the life of the people tasked with running the line.”

Customised, proven additive solutions

Eckhart develops customised factory floor solutions to address the specific needs of each client, walking the floor to see exactly where ergonomics, line of site or bill of materials can be improved using autonomous guided vehicles, collaborative robotics and additive manufacturing.

“Our customers want proven solutions, durable solutions; the assembly environment is harsh,” says Bob Heath, Additive Manufacturing Applications Engineer at Eckhart. “These tools are being used 60 times an hour for an eight-hour shift, three shifts a day, six or seven days a week. With Stratasys engineering-grade materials, Nylon 12 with carbon-fibre and ULTEM 1010 resin, we are able to produce durable, lasting solutions that can hold up and withstand the rigours of an automotive environment.”

When working to streamline production for their leading industry clients, from Ford to Mercedes to Airbus, Eckhart has shown how additive manufacturing with Stratasys materials greatly improves the way things have always been done.

“Traditionally, we had to design our parts around the way we were going to manufacture them,” says Heath. “Whether it was manually machining or CNC machine, our part design was limited to our manufacturing capabilities. But with additive manufacturing, the complexities and capabilities are limitless.”

Many of Eckhart’s clients have seen great benefit from small tweaks to their processes, adopting 3D-printed jigs or fixtures for applications such as a lug nut starter, badge alignment tools and wiper alignment set fixtures.

“Pressing on badges, emblems on vehicles – these things are repetitive tasks,” Heath explains. “When we go into plants and we pick up a badge tool, and it’s heavy, it’s either above or right at that ergonomic limit for the operator to be able to pick up 60 times an hour. So we’re alleviating the repetitive injury strain on the operator.”

“We provide solutions that are not replacing operators but are making up for the operators they can’t hire, or projecting the ability of one operator so that one can be the same as five,” adds Drew Morales, Director of Business Development and Engineering Systems at Eckhart. “And additive manufacturing is one of the tools that we have to facilitate that.”

Partnering for a streamlined future

Eckhart recognises time and innovation are top priorities, and all businesses are under an extreme amount of pressure to iterate faster. Eckhart sees this across the board, from heavy truck manufacturers like Caterpillar, to medical device manufacturers such as Medtronic and Boston Scientific, to aerospace manufacturers including Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin.

“We feel very strongly that 3D printing is the catalyst that allows businesses to test hypotheses much faster than they’ve ever been able to before,” concludes Storm. “Speed and customisation ultimately is empowered through the use of 3D printing.”