The global tooling industry is the largest horizontal industry, sustaining every major vertical industrial manufacturing sector. Since manufacturing and tooling are highly interdependent, none of a5them would ever be as productive without its support. Countless products are assembled using jigs and fixtures or are produced by molding (injection, blow, and silicone) or casting (investment, sand, and spin). No matter the application, manufacturing tools increase efficiency and profit while maintaining quality.
CNC machining is the most common technique applied in the manufacture of tools. Although it delivers highly reliable results, it may be expensive and time-consuming. As did many others, the tooling industry actors also started looking for more efficient options. Additive layer manufacturing (ALM) for tooling is an increasingly attractive method, especially because molds, patterns, jigs, and features are generally produced in low volumes and feature complex shapes.
Today, the process and variety of printable materials (plastics, rubber, composites, metals, wax, and sand) have already convinced many industries such as automotive, aerospace, and healthcare and medical, amongst others, to integrate ALM in their supply chain, including for tooling manufacture.
Which tooling applications can benefit from ALM?
Several processes involved in tooling can take advantage of ALM’s benefits:
Molding (blow, LSR, RTV, EPS, injection, paper pulp molds, soluble cores for hollow composite parts, fiberglass lay-up molds, etc…)
Casting (investment, sand, spin, etc…)
Forming (thermoforming, metal hydroforming, etc…)
Machining, assembling and inspection (jigs, fixtures, modular fixtures, etc…)
Robotics end-effectors (grippers)
Fabricating tooling with ALM offers a number of potential advantages:
1) Lead time for tooling is shortened
ALM for tooling compresses the whole product development cycle and acts as a driver for innovation. Companies sometimes choose to delay or forgo product design updates because of the need to invest in new tooling. By reducing lead time of tooling production and enabling for quick updates of an existing tool design, ALM enables companies to afford for more frequent tooling replacement and improvement. It allows tooling design cycles to keep pace with product design cycles.
Moreover, “in-house” ALM for tooling is fast and allows high flexibility/adaptability. Strategically, it secures the supply-chain against the risk of extended deadlines and downtimes, in the case where improperly fabricated tools are received from suppliers.