Since 1977, Polar Electro has guided sports enthusiasts across the world towards a healthier and better life – from first-time exercisers to pro-athletes. The company’s sports watches, heart rate sensors, and other devices capture all the complex data from the body and translate it into useful statistics to offer personalized guidance. To build these innovative products, clever engineering and smart manufacturing play a key role in the product development process at Polar. With the help of an in-house 3D printer, Polar’s development teams continuously iterate and refine prototypes all the way up until serial production.
3D printing is mainly used in the product development stages of the Finnish Kempele-based company . Prior to using 3D printing, different departments had to rely on digital visualizations or expensive mockups made with CNC milling among other technologies. These were costly and lead times were long, which hampered the product development cycles. It also meant there was little flexibility in design iterations before Polar actually went on to order tools for serial production.
“Visualization is always crucial in the decision-making process”, says Janne Virta, Mechanical Design Engineer at Polar. “For us in mechanical design, we are creating a lot of assemblies, where one change can have big consequences for the product as a whole.”
Polar has been using 3D printing since 2007, but it wasn’t until they invested in an MJP 2500 from 3D Systems, sold and installed by regional partner PLM Group, that 3D printing became an integral part of the product development process.
Most of the time, 3D printing is used at various stages, from the beginning of the development process, during the concept phase, to just before serial production commences. But at Polar, 3D printing is used already at the ideation stage.
“We tend to start 3D printing immediately after we have an idea for a new product”, says Lauri Lumme, acclaimed product designer at Polar. “This is really the largest improvement for us and allows us to have parts in less than a day.”
“But we also use 3D printed parts to validate designs, as well as try different iterations of parts, such as the shape and size of buttons and bezels. For some products we can do up to fifty iterations, just to decide what to run with.”
“Having 3D printing close at hand also affects the functionality of the product early on”, says Janne Virta. “As an example, by iterating a lot, we can try different battery sizes to see how they fit in a product.”
Polar’s go-to material with the 3D printer MJP 2500 is called VisiJet M2R-BLK. The opaque black finish material is ideal for panels and thin walls.
“We have also made trials with elastomers”, says Janne Virta. “Mainly for checking sizes of wristbands. For the actual mockups of functional wristbands, we print a master of the wristband, create a mould and outsource the silicone moulding with a nearby partner of ours.”
At its headquarters in Kempele, Finland, Polar has built a pre-production facility where new designs are refined until they’re ready for serial production. Here, the company can ramp up manufacturing before serial production starts at their factory in China. To manufacture smartly, Polar also 3D prints jigs and fixtures that improve assembly time at the Kempele manufacturing site.
“All in all, Polar is rife with innovation”, says Janne Virta. “Put shortly, it is the whole essence of our work. A lot of innovation comes from our research team, so being able to include these in the physical, 3D printed designs is a great boon for us.”