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product development | Prototyping

tooling. EOS’s Niavas says: “AM and especially our solution, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS, provides the chance to solve challenges in various areas of tooling, such as inserts, special applications like tool repair, and so on. But it is a ‘disruptive’ innovation, and we need people in what is a quite conservative industry to open their business gates, especially in the west, to take tooling into a new dimension.” Along the production chain, there are different

advantages with AM, he says. “Before AM, we were dealing with manufacturing-driven design. Designs for conformal cooling are limited, because in most cases, the only way to create cooling channels is to drill them, and drilling is very limited in the channel geometries it can produce. But conformal cooling with AM is design-driven manufacturing. What you can design, you can make. “We see very often that the customer sends us a mould that has been in production for several years, and they take a chance, when there is a product face-lift, for example to optimize it with DMLS and conformal cooling. When the mould is put back on an

old injection moulding machine, the bottleneck is not the mould any longer, but the machine.” Niavas estimates there are only around 80 AM machines in use worldwide making injection mould inserts for production. But he sees OEMs with a large part of their plastics part manufacturing chain in-house as prime targets for the technology. “These are the ones that stand to gain most from conformal cooling.” Many more mould makers could benefit from AM,

Niavas says, but the main challenge for mould makers is to cut the cost of the mould itself. “The buyer comes to them and says, ‘I want the same price as two years ago, and I want a plan over the next three years for a 6-10% price reduction.’” In such circumstances, making an investment in an

unfamiliar technology is risky, he says, so the decision is often to stay with what is known. “AM still accounts for only 1% of the tooling market. We think 10% is feasible. But customers do not change their minds overnight,” he says. “The problem is not a technical one today, it is one of costs. Laser Sintering technology has long-since been proven. What may have been missing was the right materials. But there have been big improvements in materials, as well as in process control.” Machine prices have not changed much in recent

Case closed for Samsonite

A recent project taken on by Belgium-based AM service bureau Material- ise was for luggage company Samsonite. Its European design team developed the “S’Cure” line of suitcases, which feature textured shells and had already been launched 69 and 75cm versions, when it decided it needed a 55cm version for an imminent trade show. The team required a high-quality, functional prototype that would look so much like the final product that it could be used for display and commercial selling. After receiving a bitmap from the Samsonite team, Materialise

engineers carried out various tests to confirm that it could achieve the desired effect. To ensure that the prototype would work like the final product, Materialise engineers used a mixture of stereolithography and laser sintering, to produce a complete suitcase. This included the textured case, as well as functional latches, handles, and wheels. In only eight working days, from the start of production, a completely assembled prototype was delivered to the Samsonite team.

28 INJECTION WORLD | October 2013

years, but with these improvements, they are much more productive than they were, says Niavas. “At EOS, we are focusing on delivering reliable technology. EOS has process and materials development departments. It’s very important that AM is based on a package of machine, process parameters, material. Only when all three are optimized together, do you have the best possible quality for parts.” Today, EOS offers a full range of metals for DMLS, including tool steel, stainless steel, titanium and aluminium. On the plastics side, it can supply several semi-crystalline materials, most notably polyamides, but there are some limitations on the use of amorphous resins.

Nadav Sella is Application Sales Manager and Global Field Operations at Stratasys, another leading player in AM technology. He says that in part development, there may be a need for several iterations of prototypes before the final product design is determined. This may start with a concept model, through a more accurate prototype to be used with assemblies for fit-and-form testing, all the way to fully functional prototypes for real-life testing, governmental regulation product approvals tests, and other tests that require real end-product material and manufacturing methods to be used. For the latter part of the product design life cycle, injection moulding is commonly used to produce these prototypes, Sella says, off of CNC-machined aluminium

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