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One of the many benefits of additive manufacturing is the ability to make tools with near-net-shape cooling. Tools manufactured in this way dissipate...

Photo: TRUMPF

3D Printing Improves Tool And Mold Making

One of the many benefits of additive manufacturing is the ability to make tools with near-net-shape cooling. Tools manufactured in this way dissipate the heat generated during the production process directly at its source. This reduces cycle time and improves the quality of the fabricated parts.

Producing parts by injection molding or die casting generates heat. To dissipate this heat, manufacturers equip the molds with cooling channels that help keep temperatures as stable as possible to prevent distortion of the part and similar problems. Conventional methods such as milling, however, soon reach their limits when it comes to creating these channels. “The difficulties are particularly evident with more complex shapes: we can’t get the drill into all the right places because we can’t drill around corners!” said Marc Dimter, a TRUMPF industry sector manager who is responsible for tool and mold making. In contrast, 3D printers build up the mold layer by layer, enabling the construction of cooling channels that run almost parallel to the tool wall. The biggest benefit is the reduction in cycle time that stems from faster cooling of the tool. In many cases, quality also improves because parts are less prone to distortion. What’s more, faster cooling results in more homogenous material properties in both injection molding and die casting, ultimately making parts more resilient.

Despite these advantages, German toolmakers have been slow to adopt additive manufacturing technologies. “Many companies lack the necessary expertise and are unwilling to make the investment,” said Christoph Dörr, who also works at TRUMPF as an industry sector manager for the tool and mold making industry. He notes that US companies that supply their molds to Europe have already built up a strong lead.

TRUMPF’s plug and play design of its TruPrint 1000 3D printer system—an entry-level model, is easy to install and operate, and it is particularly suitable for small injection mold inserts such as those used for plastic connectors in the electronics industry. “We’re hoping to inspire toolmakers to exploit the huge potential of 3D printing. That’s why we also offer them training in 3D design,” says Dörr.

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