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November 2017
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Tooling

3D printed molds

In cases where additive manufacturing cannot be used to replace traditional procedures, opportunities nonetheless exist for making the tools required with these types of production (moulds, inserts, models, etc.). This is especially true for moulding processes that often involve highly complex and expensive moulds and inserts.

There are two main approaches to using 3D printing in tooling. The first, indirect approach involves producing stencils using additive manufacturing and then producing moulds and matrices. The second, direct approach involves making moulds, inserts, and matrices directly using 3D printing.

In many cases, the direct approach reduces the number of steps needed to make tools, usually saving time and money in the process. Another benefit is that the technique means complex cooling circuits can be made. Cooling efficiency is greatly increased when using a mould with channels that follow the shape of the cavity rather than a linear system. And tests have suggested that using optimized cooling circuits could cut cycle times by up to 30%, all with greater part quality. Needless to say, these are big gains for businesses.

3D printing in the tooling industry isn’t without drawbacks, however, and surface finish is probably chief among them. In many cases, moulds require impeccable surface finishes, which 3D printing cannot produce directly. Post-treatment is therefore required after the mould is made or after insertion.