One of the key technologies to manufacturing is quality tooling. In applications like composites or precast concrete, tooling often dictates the cost and schedule of a project. Additive manufacturing has the promise of reducing the cost and the lead time significantly over traditional tooling. The path has not been easy as there have been challenges along the way. There has been an evolution in machinery, materials and methods that have resulted in a robust process for quickly making low cost tools that can meet the demanding needs of production.
Additively Manufactured tooling has been used in the boating industry for both plugs and production molds. Boat molds and plugs can be 3D printed. There are a few examples of 3D printed watercraft as well. A variety of projects highlight the different methods that have been tried.
Printed tooling is making an impact on the architecture world with durable, low cost tools impacting the precast concrete industry.
Aerospace has been working to qualify processes, materials and methods for both production and prototype tooling. Years of research between leading companies, research laboratories and OEMs have continuously yielded new results. See examples of work done by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tru-Design, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, IACMI, Techmer PM and Thermwood Inc. Large Scale Additive composite tooling can have vacuum integrity, low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) and durability.
Companies can routinely process a variety of materials from room temperature materials like ABS and Polycarbonate to high temperature materials such as PPS, PSU, PESU and Ultem. Each has its advantages and limitations. Materials with a lower glass transition temperature are easier to print, especially at large scale. Higher temperature materials cool quickly so you need to print fast to make large parts. The latest equipment can print quite large parts out of even high temperature materials like PESU.
AM for composite tooling has forged past the challenges and can truly be implemented today for both prototype and production. Composite manufacturers really can implement 3D printed tooling to reduce the cost and lead time of their production.