Rapid tooling: production tools made by Additive Manufacturing using plastic or metal

The advantages offered by Additive Manufacturing technologies can have a significant impact on the manufacturing of production tools. Elements such as support brackets, drilling jigs, spacer elements can be produced by AM, using plastic or metal materials, simplifying and facilitating mass production.

The advantages offered by Rapid Tooling

The easiest way to start appreciating the advantages of Additive Manufacturing is using these technologies to make ancillary equipment: indeed, Rapid Tooling can be considered a soft approach to Additive Manufacturing because it increases the efficiency, in terms of both time and costs, of a series of activities and contour equipment that, by their very nature, do not impact on the complex production chain that characterizes industrial series production.

Rapid Tooling uses Additive Manufacturing for the production of production tools aimed at improving efficiency and it offers several benefits, such as:

  • fast lead time
  • reduction in overall production costs
  • improved functionality
  • possibilities of customization.
Staffa di posizionamento e supporto per linea realizzati in Additive Manufacturing - Rapid Tooling

Making production aid tools by Additive Manufacturing reduces downtime and concentrates the processes in machine time maximizing the benefits also thanks to the use of industrial-class 3D printers.

Costs are often considered a weak point in industrial additive manufacturing. However, there are several factors that must be taken into consideration when comparing additive manufacturing and traditional production approaches, such as waste minimization, the efficient use of material and the possibility of rapidly producing the tool without using molds that can be very expensive, especially when the production lots are small.

However, industrial Additive Manufacturing finds its maximum expression in functional improvements and in the possibilities of personalization.
The possibility of creating lightened structures that, at the same time, retain mechanical and resistance properties, offers great advantages, while extreme customization can solve specific problems such as variations and tolerance problems related to raw materials.

Simplify screen printing thanks to Industrial Additive Manufacturing with plastic

Processing a raw material that is supplied with very large tolerances makes mass production more complex, as it can happen, for example, with glass containers. This is the case for the setup of a production line dedicated to silk printing and drying perfume bottles whose size is slightly different based on the batch of raw material used.

From the point of view of the finished product, these small variances don’t matter: a few millimeters of difference do not change the perception of the container of the perfume; however, the problem arises in the silk printing and drying phase for which a tool is needed in order to orientate the object in a specific way.

To overcome the problem, the client had to make or adapt special molds and also needed to produce large batches each time so as to reduce the costs of the single support tool. Nevertheless, this method involved not only costs for the production of the mold, but also warehouse costs for the storage of production surpluses and a narrower choice as regards the raw material.

Supporto linea serigrafica realizzato in Additive Manufacturing - Rapid Tooling

Rapid Tooling via Industrial Additive Manufacturing made it possible to resolve or mitigate the above problems thanks to the extreme personalization of the support and the economic advantage of producing only the strictly necessary parts.
In this way the cost became directly attributable to the production lot, without chancy calculations related to the depreciation of the mold or to the spaces necessary for the storage of the tools while waiting for a possible use.

Optimizing CNC machining thanks to Additive Manufacturing with metal materials

In order to obtain optimal machining with a CNC machine, a reliable, effective and appropriate clamping system is required. However, some workpieces do not have areas that can be firmly grasped by the machine tool gripping system, hence special tooling is required.

A particular case we have worked on involved the machining of a duct with flanges. With Rapid Tooling we have created a specially shaped clamp designed to firmly hold the duct during mechanical processing.

Attrezzaggio per macchina utensile realizzato in Additive Manufacturing - Rapid Tooling

In order to obtain greater rigidity, and therefore a higher quality of mechanical processing, a metal material was chosen, which also shows better wear resistance and longer life compared to a polymeric material: the metal material was better suited to the specific case that required use on a large number of pieces. A further advantage of producing the clamping system with metal additive manufacturing was the significant reduction of the lead time: in under 24 hours the tool was complete and ready for use.

The shorter production time is due to the fact that, starting from the CAD design of the object, it is possible to build its "negative" and then export it and print it directly. A further reduction in lead times is obtained by directly generating, during the additive manufacturing process process, the hollow structure of the clamp and the holes and seats for the screws, optimized for the machine tool to be used. Also, the intended use of the piece did not require a particular finishing, further reducing production times.