RCBI technology, expertise help NGK continue to thrive



NGK Spark Plugs (U.S.A.), Inc. prides itself on being a state-of-the-art operation with a number of “firsts” on its resume, so it’s not surprising that the company is on the leading edge when it comes to Additive Manufacturing technology using 3D Printers.

What some people might not know is that a good chunk of that innovative business is done right here in West Virginia, in partnership with the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.

NGK opened an oxygen sensor factory near Sissonville in 1995, one of the first Japanese-based companies to do business in West Virginia. The campus includes 113,000 square feet of manufacturing space and a 70,000-square-foot warehouse that was added in 2001.

While NGK does some 3D Printing on-site, equipment and expertise available at RCBI’s Charleston Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center has proven valuable to the international company. Davy Perdue, production engineer at the facility, said one recent goal was to reduce moisture absorption during production.

“We have a 3D Printer here, but it only produces from an ABS material,” Perdue said, “which would draw moisture due to humidity. To eliminate this [deficiency] we worked with RCBI and used its Fortus 3D Printer with a polycarbonate material [which doesn’t draw any moisture].”

RCBI assisted NGK with design and development of 3D CAD models of a tool-holder for its assembly line process. The tiny components in the tool-holder assembly model would be “very difficult for a machine shop to produce,” Perdue said, “and the lead time at RCBI is much less than that at a machine shop.”

Then RCBI worked with NGK to finalize 3D printer production of an ABS polymer version of the tool-holder. In addition to securing the oxygen sensors while they’re on the production line, the polymer version also allows testing for electrical properties while the product is running through the assembly line. The conductivity testing results in NGK enhancing its quality management of oxygen sensors by helping ensure a low rejection rate of the final product, thus boosting the manufacturer’s bottom line.

NGK produces about 1.4 million oxygen sensors a month, fulfilling contracts with major automakers such as Honda, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The company has been so successful in West Virginia over the past two decades that it has expanded production to include spark plugs and added a North American distribution center in Kanawha County.

Perdue said he first met RCBI’s staff of 3D Printing experts during a trade show about 4 years ago.

“I talked to them about 3D Printing, but at the time they didn’t have the machine they currently have,” he said. “I was actually looking to purchase a big machine here and RCBI ended up installing one at their facility. It didn’t make sense to put one in here when we could source the material locally and pretty inexpensively.”

Over the past few years, RCBI has helped NGK produce close to 1,000 parts at RCBI’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in South Charleston.

NGK is a firm believer that 3D Printing technology can help other manufacturers as well.

“It’s becoming big,” Perdue said of Additive Manufacturing with 3D Printers. “You can produce a prototype and test the form, fit and function tomake sure it’s correct before you get something built that doesn’t work. It’s a lot less expensive and quicker than sending parts to a machine shop to prototype.”

For more information about how RCBI can help your business, call 800.469.RCBI (7224) or visit www.rcbi.org.