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3D-Printed Molds Taking Hold


The latest RAPID 3D/Additive Manufacturing (AM) trade show displayed a lot of evidence that this technology is catching on in a big way in the plastics industry. Using AM technology, mold makers can now print cores and cavities using Stratasys’ PolyJet technology or EOS’s Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology. The PolyJet cores and cavities can be printed in matter of hours and dropped into a mold frame, and according to those companies that are working with this, can get up to 100 shots – depending on the material used.

The DMLS technology for cores and cavities offers higher productivity, with some companies saying they can get up to 50,000 shots depending on the material. The DMLS cores and cavities require secondary finishing to provide improved surface finish on the part, and there are several ways to do this.

For the mold maker who is used to the subtractive method of building a mold, there are several new hybrid machines being introduced this year. These machine tools combine subtractive manufacturing with AM capabilities for real flexibility in making cores and cavities with extremely complex geometries.

There are new 3D printers being introduced that have multiple print heads with which designers can print multiple colors or multiple polymer materials. And the variety of polymer materials now available are fairly extensive so that just about any polymer you can purchase for injection molding is available for 3D printing.

The AM machine makers that are going after the professional manufacturers are also upping the technology to meet what large manufacturing companies want for production-quality end-use parts: better quality parts in any material, faster production and a larger build area so that multiple parts can be produced at the same time rather than a “one-off” process.

While it will be awhile before AM can match or exceed what a high-cavity injection mold and molding process can do, don’t underestimate the power of this technology that is taking the manufacturing world by storm.

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