Additive Manufacturing (AM) has been called the Next Industrial Revolution, improving virtually every aspect of the way products are made. Additive manufacturing is a key component of Direct Digital Manufacturing which generally describes the process of producing parts directly from digital CAD data.
Normally DDM stories tend to focus on end use parts, where additive manufacturing is used to cost-effectively produce the final parts that go into your car, jetliner or coffee maker. Describing its potential impact, the Wohlers Report 2014 states, “Most indications suggest that we are heading toward a relatively new method of manufacturing and an industry worth tens of billions of dollars.”
One area of additive manufacturing that can have an equally significant impact is tools – the molds, patterns, jigs and fixtures that are used throughout the manufacturing and assembly processes. Comparison of 3D printed injection mold (foreground) with final part to CNC tool for same part, produced at Seuffer on a Stratasys 3D printer
Just think how many products you come in contact with every day that have been produced with injection molding, blow molding, silicone-molding and sand-casting…or assembled using jigs and fixtures. A long-standing method of creating these tools and patterns relies on time-consuming subtractive processes such as CNC tooling using steel or aluminum. But the advent of additive manufacturing and 3D printing means that tools can be created essentially without tooling – direct from digital 3D CAD files. The benefits are numerous, from accelerated time to market to drastically reduced production costs, from the elimination of wasted materials to the ability to create tools on demand.
The Future of Manufacturing is Here
DDM therefore has the potential to change the landscape and economies of manufacturing as we know it. 3D printed molds and tools enable product designs to be inexpensively functionally tested in their final materials…and refined, before being mass produced. And tools and molds can be 3D printed in literally a matter of hours, compared to weeks for CNC equivalents.
3D Printing Technology
|End of arm robot||Thogus||FDM||$600/ |
|Automated turntable||Thogus||FDM||$8,800/ |
|Steel plates||Thogus||FDM||$20/ |
|Injection mold||Seuffer||PolyJet||$1,350/day||$54,000/8 weeks |
500 kg metal
Above: Comparison of additive and conventional manufacturing resources for tool production. Source: Stratasys
For jigs & fixtures, DDM is a manufacturing dream come true. With DDM, assembly tools can be easily created to meet exact user specifications – then tested, tweaked and reprinted until perfection. Equally exciting, the precise tool required can be 3D printed on demand within hours, streamlining the manufacturing process and eliminating the need for tool inventory. Imagine how this will positively affect workflows and profits. If a jig or fixture breaks, no problem. You don’t shut down assembly, you just 3D print a new one!
Matt Hlavin, CEO, Thogus, explains “We can take a 3D geometry and 3D print an end of arm tool that weighs 70–90% less, in less than 24 hours. And if the design doesn’t work, we can tweak the CAD file and reprint it again.“Here’s another great example: vacuum cleaner legend, Oreck created a custom fixture using Stratasys FDM-based 3D printing technology for use in its inspection of injection molded parts before they’re mass produced. The result is the Quality Control process that previously took a month to complete can now be done in one day! And Oreck can now create customized fixtures that are specifically designed to quickly and perfectly position each First Article for testing.