Dustless Technologies makes universal and cost-effective dust collection systems, helping to make cleaning up easier for contractors and DIY professionals. It has built products for and worked with almost all major tool manufacturers including Milwaukee, Bosch, Hilti, and DeWalt.
From its beginnings in the 1980s as a creator of an ash vacuum for coal and wood-burning fires, the business has expanded in size and enhanced its portfolio significantly, manufacturing solutions for dust shrouds and commercial vacuums alongside a host of supporting accessories such as filters, hoses and attachments. Now with 35 employees, Dustless Technologies continues to innovate and lead the market with products sold across the world.
With this growing portfolio in mind, Dustless CEO Spencer Loveless began looking at 3D printing over injection moulding as a method to innovate and stay one step ahead of competition. Without the need for tooling, products would be able to get to market much quicker without the initial ‘hit’ of tooling costs, as well as bypassing overseas manufacturing. Product development would also benefit from much-needed additional flexibility with 3D printing allowing for small design adjustments in the early stages.
“We were on a mission to find a way to bypass injection moulding,” says Spencer Loveless, CEO, Dustless. “We tried to move forward with injection moulding, and it didn’t work, so we looked at 3D printing as the other option. We ran into Photocentric at a trade show and were very impressed by its products. We looked at other options in the 3D industry to see what other options people had to replace injection moulding, and we really didn’t find anything. A lot of people were claiming that they had the capabilities to do this, but nobody else had the right qualities in my opinion. Photocentric had a couple of the key elements and we worked with them to let them know the material properties that we desired. Photocentric was very open to the challenge.”
Dustless had a series of criteria that had to be achieved were they to make a successful transition to additive manufacturing. “We had to get the quality of the part. We had to get the cost, and we had to get the scalability,” adds Spencer. “Either you have a machine that costs a million dollars and you can do a million parts, or you have hundreds of less expensive machines and scale up. That was our philosophy. Photocentric filled the gap, because the printers are inexpensive, but you can scale them in a system.”
The reduced up-front costs was a huge draw for Dustless, as Spencer explains: “With bigger companies, they can afford up-front costs for tooling. They can afford to pay people for longer periods. The biggest thing was development time. When we designed a dust shroud for a tool it would take 12-18 months before we could start selling a product. Our biggest expense is paying designers and project managers for a year before we could make and sell a product. Our idea originally was to bring injection moulding in house, but that agility to design a part (with additive manufacturing), send it to market, test the market, and change it again if they don’t like it – that is huge for us.”
Dustless carried out a series of material strength tests and trials with support from Photocentric. “It was a ground-breaking day when Photocentric sent some materials over and asked us to try them out. We printed some parts with it and tested for durability, and it didn’t break. I thought ‘wow, I think we might have something now’. We then had to get the price and the scalability down, but we thought we had something that can replace our parts for Dustless. The heat deflection temperature wasn’t quite there so we kept giving feedback and saying the improvements we needed to in order to challenge the bigger markets.”
Dustless established its own printing setup, containing eight Photocentric LC Magna as well as Wash L2, Cure L1, Cure L2. “We started making some vacuum components for ourselves and we had other manufacturers approach us and ask if we could make parts for them. We branched off and made another company, Merit 3D, which uses the printers and equipment as a service provider to Dustless as well as to other manufacturers. The Photocentric printers are a great solution for us for printing out our smaller parts.”
Spencer and the team are now successfully printing parts using Photocentric’s printers and resins. “As an example, we’ve designed a hose cuff for a vacuum that would’ve previously been outsourced to China. We can print 25 at a time but we are working on stacking them so we can print around 105 at a time, which is pretty cool. As time goes on and technology improves, we will be ahead of the game compared to everyone else. Photocentric machines are great for printing parts that are smaller in size. We’re still looking for that sweet spot for a printer that will print even larger parts, but we see it as the future. We realise that we may be on the bleeding edge of technology, but we were willing to take the risk to dive into this. A lot of industries I talked to said we were 10 years ahead of our time and that just put a fire under me to make this work and prove people wrong.”