Replacement parts, strand by strand

At Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA), five colleagues took the initiative to print replacement parts that are no longer available as well as prototypes. The tools from the 3D printer save HHLA a lot of money.

The bright green plastic bracket might look rather unspectacular. But with this little three-cent plastic part, the Service Center Altenwerder (SCA) saves the workshop at CTA ten thousand times its material value.

The original holds up a € 400 sunshade in the driver’s cabin of a container gantry crane. But the manufacturer does not sell a replacement for the bracket. If the cheap plastic bracket breaks, the entire sunshade has to be replaced.

SCA employee Uwe Soltwisch thwarts the sunshade manufacturer’s € 400 offer with his cheap plastic part. Instead of replacing the sunshade in its entirety, he simply printed the replacement bracket using his private 3D printer. Soltwisch has now even optimised the bracket’s design: The replica is considerably more stable than the original.

Money-saving work at home

50-year-old Soltwisch actually works as a technical dispatcher at the SCA. But he has been fascinated by 3D printing for quite some time. In spring 2018, he bought his own 3D printer and tested it with the templates that came with it.

Spare parts out of the nozzle

But before too long, that wasn’t enough for Soltwisch: He took the broken bracket from the sunshade home with him and kept trying things out until he was satisfied.

With his self-printed bracket, he persuaded SCA Operations Manager Henning Verstege to buy a 3D printer for the maintenance and repairs work at Container Terminal Altenwerder.

“In the first twelve months, we already designed around 40 technically and economically viable printed objects,” Soltwisch says, delighted. Originally trained as an electrician, today the technical management expert subjects each application scenario to a cost-benefit analysis.

Initiative and ambition

“We” are the 3D printing team that now exists at the SCA. It comprises Soltwisch and his colleagues Carsten Hillmer, Pat Ludwig, Sönke Manstein and Sebastian Thiess. “We all have our own 3D printers at home and test many things out there. We spur each other on,” Soltwisch explains.

This motivation among the colleagues is a major factor in the team’s success. “Our 3D printing project works so well at the SCA because we are all highly motivated, like to tinker and are ambitious.”

The five from the printing station

It’s not only the staff on the 3D printing team who promote the new technology. The five from the printing station have advertised their 3D printing initiative so widely throughout the terminal that their colleagues from various large-scale equipment teams now also approach them when they have technical problems.

40 technically and economically viable replacement parts and prototypes were developed using the 3D printer in its first 12 months at the SCA.

Like the staff members who maintain the spreaders on the block storage cranes. They were constantly experiencing problems with the brackets that held the cameras that take real-time images for the remote control operators. Defective screw threads led to distorted camera images. This made it difficult for the remote control operators to precisely transport the containers onto the trucks.

As part of a fast, cheap solution, Manstein printed the bracket himself – including a hexagonal indent for standard nuts.

It is robust and can be replaced when necessary. Manstein developed the printing templates for the prototype himself: The printer prints layer upon layer of liquid plastic threads, gradually building up the object. This is something that the print data technician needs to bear in mind during the planning process.

Practical test: In the spreader workshop, an SCA technician replaces the old, white camera bracket, which is prone to wear, with the orange prototype from the in-house 3D printer. For this purpose, optimised 3D print data were created and printed on-site, layer upon layer.

Expertise that pays off

Additive manufacturing, as it is also known, is now completely familiar to the 3D printing team. And it is used to generate profits: the print makers focus on unavailable replacement parts and prototypes which the team optimises.

Soltwisch explains why this pays off: “Instead of having a new design made by the manufacturer at great cost, we have the opportunity to print our own prototype.

In this way, we can quickly gauge whether our idea can prove itself in practice.” The camera bracket is standing up well so far. Every time an SCA colleague exchanges the original part in the spreader for a more sturdy one printed by the team, it’s a great advertisement for the expertise in 3D printing in Altenwerder.