Micro additive manufacturing (AM) technology developer, Nanofabrica, recently achieved success in trials of its development of direct rapid soft tooling (DRST). The company accomplished a breakthrough that enabled the printing of a mold that lasted 20 shots, with plans to increase this to 1000 shots in the coming months.
In its recent experiments, Nanofabrica (which can achieve 1-micron resolution with excellent surface finish on its Terra 250 AM platform) succeeded in injecting PP, PE, and ABS into a 3D printed mold, which was manufactured with a new material that the company is currently developing. In the initial experiments, the molds lasted for 20 shots with a molding pressure of 400 bar at 230°C. It took Nanofabrica an hour to additively manufacture one mold at the cost of under $20. The materials were injected using an Arburg 35-ton machine.
The trials were initiated at the request of key industry players who were interested in assessing the time and cost savings that are inherent when producing DRST as opposed to conventional hard steel tools for injection molding. In addition, the companies were eager to achieve the high surface finish as well as tiny features and complexity possible through the use of Nanofabrica’s AM technology.
Jon Donner, CEO at Nanofabrica says, “The time and cost associated with the fabrication of conventional tooling for injection molding means that many OEMs are assessing the viability of creating AM produced DRST for short-run production parts and functional prototypes.”
Tovit Neizer, VP Business Development at Nanofabrica adds “We are fine tuning the manufacture of our DRST through a combination of design optimization and improvements in materials. While we are getting a good 20 shots off this preliminary testing, we are working on improving both the material as well as the process with the aim of handling tougher injection conditions and a bigger array of injected materials. Our aim is to last 1000 shots in the coming months. This unlocks new business possibilities for mold makers and manufacturers who up until this point have been restricted to the use of long lead time and expensive traditionally manufactured mold tools for the achievement of any volume of molding, from prototype runs all the way through to mass manufacture. The Nanofabrica trials should stimulate the business case for a process chain that includes DRST, with a dramatically shorter lead time of about 2 hours from file to injected part and at costs reduced from thousands of dollars to tens.”
Using Nanofabrica’s Terra 250 AM platform to produce DRST capable of manufacturing upwards of 1000 parts per tool opens up the possibility of small and even medium batch manufacturing. Users may be able to manufacture multiple small tools in each build, and so produce numerous replacement tools at low cost.
Neizer continues, “The rest is just math! In the future, for the cost of one aluminum precise mold which costs about $10K you could manufacture 500 soft molds on a Terra 250, leading to about 500K final parts through a significantly faster process. In addition, each tool can be adapted as required, opening up the possibility of speed to first part out, and the ability to correct during the manufacturing process according to market and customer needs.”
Donner concludes, “Until Nanofabrica’s results, the demand for AM produced DRST has been held back by perceptions that AM is limited in terms of surface finish, precision, accuracy, and repeatability and also in terms of the limited number of materials that can be processed. Nanofabrica’s AM process reaches micron-level resolution enabling high surface finish, and when applied to manufacturing of mold tooling for the very first time the requirements of tooling can be achieved without the time-consuming and costly need to cut steel. The high resolution that Nanofabrica’s technology achieves means that it can create extremely precise and micro features, and this is a key attribute that manufacturers are also keen to take advantage of.”