Pipelife Extends Automated 3D Printing in Production

21. October 2022 | 5 min read

2.5 years ago, Pipelife became the first manufacturer that uses automated 3D printing to produce manhole and inspection chamber flow profiles. We talked with Pipelife’s experts about leveraging this new technology and the opportunities it has brought to wastewater and stormwater industries. Broader technical possibilities, higher order fill rates, and improved work safety are some of the most cited advantages.

3D printing of a manhole flow profile in process | Pipelife

Increasing the Availability of Tailor-Made High-Precision Solutions

As a world pioneer, Pipelife started automated 3D printing of manhole and inspection chamber flow profiles in 2020, and the client interest in the new technology is high.

Instead of manually cutting and welding connections for non-standard flow profiles, specially developed software creates a design with optimized hydraulic properties, and a high-precision 3D printing machine ensures its 1:1 implementation.

The new technology is instrumental when it comes to technically complex requests that are time-consuming to produce manually. Due to the increased production speed and the ability to run the printer 24/7, Pipelife now handles more non-standard orders in a shorter time.

Ton Schoenmaker, R&D Project Manager at Pipelife, sums it up: “If we receive a customer request for a tailor-made flow profile on Thursday afternoon, we can now do the printing over the weekend. And on Monday morning, we can already move on with the assembly and delivery. Previously, fulfilling such orders took two to three weeks.”

Furthermore, 3D printing has opened new technical possibilities in the flow profile design, including models that were challenging or, sometimes, impossible to produce before.

Pipelife’s software offers more than 400 quadrillion customization possibilities, and the third-party test laboratory Deltares has confirmed the excellent hydraulics of 3D-printed flow profiles.

“In some countries, like Sweden, there is a growing demand for sloping flow profiles where the inlet is positioned higher than the outlet. The options of producing such profiles manually are very limited, but it is easily achievable with 3D printing. This is a unique solution we can now offer to our customers,” says Schoenmaker.

Automated 3D printer printing a manhole flow profile | Pipelife
Pipelife introduced automated 3D printing of manhole and inspection chamber flow profiles in 2020

3D Printing Improves Work Quality and Safety

Currently, Pipelife uses three automated 3D printers. One of them is located in Botevgrad, Bulgaria, and was installed this summer.

“The 3D printer gives us peace of mind, speeding up and automizing the production of tailor-made manhole base plates. Our 3D printed products excel with highly reliable operation and optimized hydraulics, which are essential for our customers,” says Stanimir Georgiev, Infrastructure Product Manager at Pipelife Bulgaria.

Besides optimized production schedules in the plant, 3D printing has also increased work safety, especially when producing manholes with different-sized connections at different heights. Preparing such connections manually is always linked to increased injury risk, which has now been eliminated.

“The printer produces complete, ready-to-use profiles, so we don’t waste time on cutting and welding anymore. The overall work safety has improved, since these are hazardous tasks,” says Georgi Balev, Production Supervisor at Pipelife Bulgaria.

Manholes with complex 3D printed flow profiles | Pipelife were used to expand the sewage network at Pipelife’s plant in Botevgrad | Pipelife
Manholes with complex 3D printed flow profiles were used to expand the sewage network at Pipelife’s plant in Botevgrad

At the Forefront of Technological Innovation in 3D Printing

Since introducing automated 3D printing 2.5 years ago, Pipelife has been continuously working on further advancements of the technology. As an example, all 3D printers within the group this year were equipped with conveyer belts, allowing continuous production without human interference.

“We have applied an automatic release system — once the printing task is finished, the table tilts; the print slides on the conveyer belt, and the next profile can be started,” explains Schoenmaker. “This means we now continue production during weekends and after 5 p.m. when our specialists go home.”

A conveyer belt next to a working 3D printer | Pipelife
This year, all 3D printers were equipped with conveyer belts
Two completed 3D-printed flow profiles on a conveyer belt | Pipelife

By the beginning of 2023, Pipelife also plans to upgrade its printers with positioners, saving on material waste. 3D printed objects often require extra support to hold horizontally hanging structures of molten plastic.

“With a positioner, we can continue printing lines directly on top of each other without the need for additional support while maintaining excellent durability and optimal hydraulics,” says Schoenmaker. “In 3D printing, you have to make sure the structure does not exceed a 45-degree angle; that’s the maximum. A positioner is essentially a moving table that can turn the print as needed, changing the angle.”

The groupwide rollout of the new technology continues, and additional 3D printing machines are to join Pipelife’s lineup in the future.

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