Additive Manufacturing and Tooling – in Production Lines and Elsewhere


Aya Bentur  

Pathfinder - DMLS Surgical Tool Repairs Ligaments - Stratasys

There are quite a few applications where Additive Manufacturing can produce major impact with minimal disruption. One such application that we wrote about a few weeks ago is on demand production of spare parts and the use of virtual inventory. Another area where the use of 3D printing brings significant cost savings with minimal disruption is tooling. Maintaining the existing infrastructure of production, with only the slightest changes, a company can utilize Additive Manufacturing to create the tooling for their production line. Below are some examples and further explanations on how this is done.

Production Flow

With Additive Manufacturing companies are capable of producing an unlimited range of functional tools, reacting faster to the needs and improving their production workflow. Stratasys and Volvo, for example, worked together to produce tough manufacturing and assembly tools for Volvo’s Trucks production line. Lightweight durable clamps, jigs and support tools assisting with a specific production line issue are easily 3D printed allowing the company to constantly improve the manufacturing process. By improving the manufacturing process, making it more adaptable, the company can be more experimental and inventive going forward. With this method, Volvo has cut the turnaround time to getting the production tool by 94%. In addition, in some cases, durable plastic jigs can replace metal ones reducing materials costs dramatically.

Last week a new partnership was announced between Stratasys and McLaren Racing which are designing and building Formula 1 race cars. Using Stratasys FDM and PolyJet based 3D printing solutions and materials, the company will integrate additive manufacturing in customized production parts but also in production tooling and composite tooling.

3D Printed Holding Fixture Used to Maintain the Position of an Engine Hose During Assembly - Stratasys and Volvo
3D printed jig holding fixture maintaining the position of an engine hose during assembly – Stratasys & Volvo
Additive Manufacturing of Tooling - BMW 3D Printed Thumb Tool
BMW thumb cast – the workers at BMW have to push a huge number of rubber plugs into holes on the assembly line, which was giving too many of them a repetitive strain type injury.
Iterative Processes in Manufacturing

Dr. Jonathan Miller, a materials scientist and the additive manufacturing lead at Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, talks about the issue of time in conventional manufacturing: “Manufacturing is an iterative process, and you never get a part ‘just right’ on the first try. You spend time creating the tools to manufacture a complex part and then spend more time when you realize an initial design needs to be modified. Additive manufacturing offers lower cost tooling and lower lead times. The early mistakes don’t hurt you as badly.”

3D Printed Injection Mold with Resulting Part Produced on a Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printer - Schneider Electric
3D printed injection mold with resulting part produced on a Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printer – Schneider Electric

Producing molds for injection molding is a long and expensive process, once the mold is produced changing it or making adaptations is very unlikely. On the other hand, if the mold itself or the insert is additively manufactured it can be changed and improved in an efficient manner, cutting costs and time dramatically. At GF Machining Solutions Additive Manufacturing complements traditional technologies, particularly in the production of molds and dies. Together with EOS they develop AM S 290 Tooling providing solutions for mold making using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) generating shorter production cycle times, greater productivity, higher plastic product quality and lower energy consumption. More on the history of mold making here.

Cooling Geometries

The cooling time is also an essential part of the injection molding process, after the actual injection molding, cooling channels with cooling fluid are used to accelerate the hardening of the molten material in order to release the mold. A controlled cooling process also affects the strength of the part, if different areas cool in different paces it can create weakness in the material. When using Additive Manufacturing the mold can be designed in a more complex geometry creating cooling channels which speeds up as well as maintains uniformity in the cooling process. In some cases, the cooling channels can be added in an insert tool to a mold.

Additively Manufactured Tooling Core -EOS and Spritzguss Formenbau Bergmann
Additively manufactured tooling core – EOS and Spritzguss Formenbau Bergmann
Additive Manufacturing of Tooling - Drill Inserts with Cooling Channels
Additively manufactured inserts for Mapal QTD drills

Mapal is using Additive Manufacturing to produce QTD drills inserts (above) allowing for the inclusion of a spiral cooling channel, which improves the performance of the drill and provides long service lives for the drills. The simple components are machined conventionally and the more complex parts are 3D printed (laser melted), creating solutions that would not have been possible to manufacture otherwise, as well as significantly more economical. Dr. Dirk Sellmer provides a more detailed explanation: “The additively manufactured insert drill has a cooling concept with spiral ducts, which improves the cooling performance. Compared with the previous central coolant supply with y diversion, a spiral coolant routing increases the coolant flow by 100%.”

Guiding and Aiding

In the medicine field, tools have a different role: in surgical procedures, guides are used to direct the surgeon to the precise location. The surgical guides need to be easy and quick to produce, accurate and customizable to the specific patient, all of these requirements fit perfectly with the attributes of Additive Manufacturing. For example, Consensus Orthopedics is using the Knee Guide System by Materialise giving surgeons the ability to plan and conduct a surgery specifically customized to the needs of each patient, and Formlabs developed a resin called Dental SG Resin which is biocompatible and designed for high precision. In the image up top is Pathfinder, a DMLS surgical tool for repairing ligaments being produced. DanaMed worked together with Laser Design and Stratasys on the device which is qualified as a Class 1 Medical Device registered with the FDA.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions, share your comments and suggestions below. For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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