When most people hear the word “tooling” they think of hammers, screwdrivers, and the other numerous items that can be found at your local hardware store. Manufacturing engineers; however, view tooling in a different light. For them, “tooling” is a family of aids used in the manufacturing and assembly of a product. It can be as simple as a fixture used to fasten a part during assembly or as complex as a mold used to form the shape of a car’s hood. Regardless of the application (and there are many), tooling plays a significant role in the product development cost and lead time to bring new products to market since these tools tend to be highly customized and difficult to re-purpose. It can be quite a challenge for suppliers who must balance cost, quality, and lead time without passing these hidden expenses onto the consumer. Fortunately, additive manufacturing (AM) is an established technology that can alleviate many of these pain points.
Additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) is primarily used for rapid prototyping, but has been gaining momentum for several years in manufacturing tooling applications. AM enables users to create extremely complicated designs in significantly less time than traditional tooling and often at a cost reduction. The residual effects of this reduced lead time can be immediately realized since manufacturing engineers now have some breathing room when it comes to scaling up the manufacturing processes for a new product. Furthermore, AM can optimize supply chains since it allows for de-centralized manufacturing. The tool designs can be shared globally and printed locally right on the factory floor.
The automated and digital nature of AM means that almost any manufacturing facility can find a way to adopt this technology with positive results. Contrary to popular belief, AM isn’t going to eliminate traditional tooling (nor should it), but it does provide an appealing alternative for certain applications. In many cases, the highest value is observed for low-volume, complex designs under an extremely short lead time. Selecting the correct material is the key to success for AM tooling. A variety of polymer-based materials offer varying properties depending on the application, such as Nylon 12 reinforced with carbon fibers for increased stiffness or Ultem™ 1010 for elevated heat exposure in excess of 350°F (176°C).
To learn more about the adoption drivers for making the switch to AM for production tooling and what applications fit the Stratasys suite of FDM printers please visit our website and download the Business Considerations for Production Tooling Conversion to Additive Manufacturing.