Additively Manufactured Tooling – More than the Tool Itself


Aya Bentur  

3D printed tool used to mold an automotive part. Henkel and Fortify

When summing up the year 2019 and looking forward to 2020, we presented 5 trends that we believed will emerge during the course of this year. We didn’t anticipate COVID-19, of course, but we did see additively manufactured tooling applications becoming an enabler of wider additive manufacturing (AM) adoption. Even though we’re not halfway through the year yet, the anticipated trend is gaining traction. Tooling has emerged as an application that shapes AM use.

What Can AM Tools do for Your Business?

3D Printed low weight bell tool by Mapel

There are immediate advantages in using AM-produced tools, such as jigs and fixtures, in a production line. AM tools can significantly speed up time to market and streamline an operation. The ease in which an AM tool is produced allows for more accurate and efficient production lines as multiple and specific purpose-oriented tools can be produced for lower costs. Not to mention the fact that beyond the speed of producing the tools, AM can help a company improve production by creating better, more efficient, tools that in most cases wouldn’t have been possible to produce conventionally, such as the low weight bell tool by Mapel (above). AM tooling solutions can also help in creating a more agile and effective production line. In this case, it’s not about replacing conventional manufacturing with AM but rather inserting AM tools to improve an existing conventional manufacturing line. By keeping the structure of the line the same and inserting interchangeable tools, the production line can be adapted quickly from product to product or even allow for variations within a product. ERIKS, for example, stated that it has saved over €350,000 last year by employing Ultimaker printers for tooling purposes (below) and Guhring UK, a tooling manufacturer, uses Markforged printers, which helped save 75% of costs by supplying low volume AM tools as well as using AM in their own production facility (2nd below).

Ultimaker and ERIKS 3D Printed Tool

Guhring UK 3D Printed Tools

Tooling as an Intro to AM

While the advantages above are quite clear, there’s another major reason for the popularity of AM tooling: it is a great first step in companies longer term AM plan. For a company contemplating how, where, and when to implement AM in the production process, tooling is an easy way to start. It requires relatively little effort, the benefits versus challenges can be examined almost immediately, and it is not exposed to the company’s customers directly. As Moshe Molcho co-founder and CEO of LEO Lane said, “Here at LEO Lane, we believe that even though AM is a disruptive technology, adopting it doesn’t necessarily require disrupting current manufacturing. Tooling is an excellent example of the high-rewards vs minimal disruption that AM can bring, especially when it is thoughtfully and consistently applied”, making AM tooling an ideal gateway into regular AM production.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa and Ultimaker 3D Printed Tooling Solutions

Volkswagen Autoeuropa, for example, states that AM tooling solutions enabled the company to save 91% in costs related to tool development as well as reduce the development time of those tools by 95% by using Ultimaker printers (above), Volvo Trucks currently has 500 additively manufactured tools and fixtures (below a one-piece diffuser used in the paint atomizer cleaning process). For automotive companies such as Volkswagen and Volvo Trucks, the use of tooling can serve as an indication and as a basis for furthering their AM operations. The knowledge gained by additively manufactured tools can be applied in maintenance services across the globe using AM tools, in supplying AM replacement parts as well as original parts. Facility Vice President and General Manager Franky Marchand at Volvo Trucks talked about the process of integrating AM at the company: “Several years later, we can now say that 3D printing has become an integral component to our manufacturing processes and culture”.

3D Printed one-piece diffuser used by Volvo Trucks in the paint atomizer cleaning process

In-House and Out-Sourced

Another important factor is the fact that AM tooling solutions are utilized in-house. Meaning the results can be gauged within the company. The part or product isn’t exposed to the customers, mitigating potential fears of public issues in terms of customer reaction, marketing, etc (below Heineken and Ultimaker AM tooling for their production line).

Heineken and Ultimaker 3D Printed Tools

While many companies create AM tooling applications in-house, we see a parallel trend of specialty companies whose only business is tooling moving to use more AM solutions when serving their customers. One example is Amaero International and Fletcher Insulation working together to develop AM tooling applications, saying: “These tooling inserts are common to die-casting tools globally, and once this AM process is proven, there would be scope for significant global opportunities”. Some tooling solutions are relatively simple and can be produced in-house, yet some require specific professional knowledge. It’s common practice to outsource molds for example, as it requires a complex, specific skill set to design them. This extends to AM produced molds such as the additively manufactured tool used to mold an automotive part by Henkel and Fortify (up top). Tooling companies understand that AM can help them serve their customers better, faster, even cheaper. This enables a company to grow and expand, as creating a cheaper part usually means a customer can afford to purchase more, and happy customers are just good business.

Testing the AM waters is often a combination of a well-thought-out plan along with taking the plunge – going to production with real applications. Using AM for tooling applications can provide just the right balance between a fast experience and an opportunity to learn the results and apply further.

Have you experienced the benefits of AM tooling solutions? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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