Beyond the die block inserts, YKK also 3D prints zipper elements, or teeth, as
well as slider mechanisms. These are often printed oversize to help confirm
whether initial design concepts will be successful before transitioning to actual
size prototyping using injection molding.
“We produce all kinds of fastener parts using the Stratasys 3D printer,” said
Davis. “The capability of the machine is ideal for our requirements and has
proven to be an irreplaceable part of the R&D process. We do in fact have
another brand of 3D printer on-site, but we don’t use it as much as it takes two
hours just to warm up. Using the Connex3, we can print a die block insert in
While the benefits of 3D printing are felt across numerous manufacturing applications, YKK also 3D prints impressive demonstrator models for global exhibitions. And aside from product development, YKK’s U.K. facility is also responsible for machine development, supporting production in 14 other EMEA countries, as well as sister R&D sites in Italy, Germany, and Turkey. A high percentage of the machines used by YKK are built in-house, where 3D printing is proving useful.
“We are now 3D printing a number of parts for actual use on our machines,” said Davies. “We have replaced many of the metal component chutes on our injection molding machines with 3D printed versions – it’s just so much quicker and far more cost-effective.” The successful deployment of PolyJet 3D printing has allowed YKK to not only respond quickly to product development requirements but to also overcome time-consuming barriers of conventional machining for low-volume prototyping, enabling YKK to stay ahead of the competition.