Molding is big business and is associated with all areas of manufacturing.
In modern times, manufacturing and molding are highly dependent, and countless product components are manufactured by molding (injection, blow molding, and silicone) or by casting (e.g., mold casting, fining, and spinning). Whatever the application, making molds guarantees quality while increasing efficiency and profitability. CNC machining is the most common technique used to make molds. Although it provides highly reliable results, it is also very expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, many manufacturers of molds are also beginning to find more effective alternatives. Creating molds from additive manufacturing (ALM or 3D printing technology) is an attractive way to make 3D molds, because molds are generally found in smaller quantities and come in more complex shapes.
Today, 3D printer and a variety of printed materials (plastics, rubber, composites, metals, waxes, and sand) have brought great convenience to many manufacturing sectors, such as the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries among others that have integrated 3D printing as a part of their supply chains.
1 The following aspects of the mold manufacturing are able to be processed with 3D printing technology:
- Molding (blow molding, LSR, RTV, EPS, injection molding, paper pulp, soluble core, FRP mold, etc.)
- Forming (thermoforming, metal hydroforming, etc.)
- Machining, Assembly and Testing (Fixing Fixtures, Moving Fixtures, Modular Fixtures)
- Robot end effector (hand grip)
2 The use of 3D printing mold manufacturing has many advantages:
1) The mold-production cycle is shortened
3D printing a mold shortens the entire product-development cycle and encourages innovation. In the past, companies sometimes opted to postpone or abandon product design updates due to the large amount of capital needed to make new molds. By reducing mold-setup times and enabling existing design tools to be updated quickly, 3D printing enables businesses to afford more frequent mold changes and improvements. It enables the mold design cycle to keep pace with the product-design cycle.
In addition, some companies have purchased their own 3D printing equipment to mold, thus further accelerating the speed of product development, increased flexibility, and adaptability. Strategically, it increases the ability of supply chain defenses to extend deadlines and minimize the risk of stagnation, such as obtaining inappropriate molds from suppliers.
2) Manufacturing costs are lower
If the current cost of metal 3D printing is higher than the cost of traditional metal fabrication processes, the cost savings will be made easier in the plastic area.
Metal 3D printed molds are economically advantageous in the production of small, discontinuous series of end products, because the fixed costs for these products are difficult to amortize or because they are limited to certain specific geometries (i.e. they are optimized for 3D printing only). But there are even more economic advantages. In particular, 3D printing is cost-effective when using materials that are very expensive and where traditional mold-making results in high material scrap rates.
In addition, the ability of 3D printing to produce accurate molds in just a few hours can have a positive impact on manufacturing processes and margins. Especially when the production downtime or mold inventory is very expensive.
Finally, there are often times when the mold has to be changed after the start of production. The flexibility of 3D printing allows engineers to simultaneously produce multiple iterations, thus reducing upfront costs associated with mold-design changes.
3) The improvement of mold design adds more functionality to the end product
Often, the special metallurgical approach to metal 3D printing improves the microstructure of the metal and produces a fully dense print component with mechanical or physical properties as good as or better than those forged or cast (depending on the heat treatment and test orientation). Additive manufacturing offers engineers unlimited options to improve mold design. When the target part consists of several subcomponents, 3D printing has the ability to integrate the design and reduce the number of parts. This simplifies the product assembly process and reduces the tolerances.
In addition, it enables the integration of complex product functions, enabling faster production of highly functional end products and generating fewer product defects. For example, the overall mass of an injection molded part is affected by the heat transfer conditions between the injected material and the cooling fluid flowing through the fixture. The channels that direct the cooling material are typically straight if manufactured with conventional techniques, resulting in slower and non-uniform cooling in the molded part.
3D printing allows for cooling channels of any shape to ensure a more optimal and uniform cooling, resulting in higher quality parts and lower rejection rates. In addition, faster heat removal significantly reduces the cycle time for injection molding, since cooling times generally amount to up to 70% of the entire injection cycle.
4) Optimize tools to make them more ergonomic and improve their performance
3D printing reduces the barrier of validating new tools that address the unmet needs in the manufacturing process, enabling more moving fixtures and fixtures to be manufactured. Traditionally, tool design and corresponding devices have always been used for as long as possible due to the cost and effort required to redesign and manufacture them. With 3D printing technology, businesses can refurbish any tool at any time, not just those that are already scrapped and do not meet the requirements.
Due to the small amount of time and initial cost required, 3D printing makes it more economical to optimize tools for better marginal performance. As a result, technicians can think about ergonomics more when designing to improve the operational comfort of these devices, allowing for reduced processing time and making them more user-friendly and easier to store. This may only reduce the assembly operation time by a few seconds, but tool design optimization can also reduce the rejection rate of parts.
5) Custom mold to help achieve the final product customization
Shorter production cycles, more complex geometries, and the ability to reduce final manufacturing costs allow companies to create a large number of personalized tools to support the manufacture of custom parts. 3D printing mold is very conducive to customized production, such as medical equipment and other elements within the medical industry. It offers surgeons personalized 3D printed instruments, such as surgical guides and tools that enable them to improve surgical results and reduce operating time.