FirstEnergy Corporation Evaluates 3D Printing for Replacing Obsolete Parts

“As a result of the student project, we were able to use the enhanced 3D drawings to produce a large quantity of the grommets. The fact that we now have the printer on-site allows for expeditious replacement of the obsolete grommets and ultimately a significant cost savings compared to other technologies.”
— Jim Amundsen, FirstEnergy Beta Lab

The Need

FirstEnergy Corporation tests and repairs old analog electronic modules for electric companies and service providers. Some of the older modules contain plastic grommets that electrically insulate test jacks, but in a few instances, the grommets are no longer available or supported by the original equipment manufacturer. FirstEnergy Corporation needs a way to replace old grommets that have cracked due to age.

The PennTAP Connection

PennTAP partners with Penn State College of Engineering’s Learning Factory to find sponsors and scope projects that challenge teams of senior engineering students each semester. FirstEnergy Corporation is actively involved in economic development strategies and was interested in engaging with University students in its service territory.

The Project

FirstEnergy Corporation challenged the students to investigate 3D printing technology as an alternative for producing replacement grommets. This request encompassed evaluating 3D printing technologies for fabricating small to medium-sized plastic grommets; developing a workflow to replace an existing part with a 3D printed part; implementing the workflow to replace the existing grommets with 3D printed replicas using two or three different 3D printing processes; testing and evaluating the replicas in a laboratory module; identifying the best 3D printer process; and estimating the cost and payback period for purchasing a specific model of 3D printer.

The Outcome

The student engineering design team generated a CAD model of the grommets, learned about how the grommets were used in the field, and then generated redesigns using 3D printing that improved the customer experience. They tested the 3D printed grommets for fitting and electrical insulation to determine which printers and what materials provided the best quality parts. Business cases for the top two qualifying 3D printers were provided, along with recommendations for purchase. A set of 3D printing workflow instructions was also produced for future reference. A significant economic benefit was realized by FirstEnergy due to the new process of grommet production.

About the Company

FirstEnergy Corporation
6670 Beta Drive
Mayfield Village, OH 44143