Additive Manufacturing

MAY 2018

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING is the magazine devoted to industrial applications of 3D printing and digital layering technology. We cover the promise and the challenges of this technology for making functional tooling and end-use production parts.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 33 of 43

MAY 2018 Additive Manufacturing FEATURE / Production Tooling 32 ing investment for 3D printing might not be as high as they had assumed. Anaforian says just the cost difference between in-house and outsourced tooling proved sufficient for the first printer to pay for itself in seven months. And during these early months, he and others in the company grew accustomed to their slightly changed roles, he says. Senior Mechanical Engineer Jason Hennessy, who works remotely for the Oregon company from an office in Minnesota, now designs elaborate 3D-printed tools based on customer part data. Anaforian maintains the 3D printers and keeps them loaded with material—a new responsibility that is not all that difficult or even inconvenient, given that the machines run in a room near his office. And the one whose job has perhaps most significantly changed for the better is Process Engineer Victor Figueroa, who is now much less of a repairman and trouble- shooter for old tooling, and who now instead gets to be more of an inventor. A Custom Tool Saves Effort In his workroom, Figueroa showed me some of the tooling he has long maintained and repaired, and how 3D printing is making all this work easier. A 3D-printed mask that fits like a custom lid over a geometrically complex medical device housing replaced an assembly of machined components that previously allowed coating to sometimes slip through the seams. But far more difficult still was the rack of tooling for a frequently recurring small part, a component of a medical pump. Sheet metal guards were employed to mask each identi- cal piece at each of the pockets where these parts mounted, but Figueroa says there were several problems with this tooling. "To get the part mounted just right, so the sheet metal covered just the right portion of the part, the operator needed calipers," he says. Setup was therefore long. And over time, the sheet metal pieces got bent. "I'd fix them, but it was never per- fect." As a result, the masking differed from piece to piece. Plus, there was a potential quality problem: "The sheet metal could scratch the metal coating," he says. 3D printing will fix every one of these problems. The hard tooling using sheet metal is still in use for now, but as capacity permits on the 3D printers, this tooling will be replaced with masks that are designed to precisely match and mate with the part. In the new tooling solution, every mask will be identical, made from rugged polymer masks that will resist abuse. Setup will be simple, and the plastic masks will offer no threat if they happen to rub against parts that have just been coated. Perhaps the solution to date of which Figueroa is most proud is a spring-loaded tool for keeping the threaded holes free of coating on a medical-device housing component. In the past, covering and protecting the attachment holes for this part meant manually screwing a plug into each hole. Running a batch of these parts would mean screwing and unscrewing so many plugs that the employee's hand would fatigue. The new solution Figueroa helped devise (actually a team effort that went through four iterations before the team got the design right) takes the form of a custom clamp that covers four of this part's threaded holes with a simple squeeze of the tool. Two such custom tools mask each piece completely, replacing in just two clampings the masking that used to involve eight screwed and unscrewed plugs. As exemplified by this invention, PMT has now begun to explore possibilities in efficient masking that it would have never seen a practical way to realize prior to in-house 3D printing. Adam Anaforian shows the company's new preferred resource for making tooling. Two 3D printers making custom tools in-house (right in the office, in fact) have reduced the cost, delay and lack of design freedom associated with having tooling made externally. Take a Cue from the Queue Business is still growing for PMT: An increasing reliance on sensitive electronics and increased concern about their fidelity creates more of the sorts of opportunities the company was founded to address. And for much of the past year, in-house 3D printing has been crucial for keeping up. Indeed, the capability is already accepted and assumed. On the day I visited, a clustering of orders—various jobs from various sources that happened to come at once—had resulted in a backlog on the 3ntr machines. Tooling work queuing for 1,800 hours into the future put a brake on the speed by which jobs could be run and delivered. That tooling backlog is now considerably less, but the predicament made clear how far and how quickly additive manufacturing has advanced in this company. Not long ago, AM was the capability PMT wasn't sure it could justify. Now it has become a crucial factor able to affect the output and delivery of all the rest of the process.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Additive Manufacturing - MAY 2018