The ExOne Company (Nasdaq: XONE) has released what it is calling the “broadest portfolio of industrial-grade 3D printed tooling”, dedicated to plastic injection molding or forming, laying up composites, casting metals, and other traditional manufacturing techniques. The X1 Tooling collection has been tested specifically for these uses and are intended to introduce fast and flexible options for 3D printing tooling.
As much as we’d like to think that 3D printing is going to be primarily used for end part production, it is still more commonly relied on for the fabrication of prototypes and tooling. As Executive Editor Joris Peels has repeatedly pointed out, tooling can act as a gateway for wider adoption of additive manufacturing across a business, with workshop and factory floor employees seeing the value of the technology and potentially moving it up the value chain as it reaps benefits.
ExOne’s new X1 Tooling products are the result of the company’s acquisition of Freshmade 3D assets and the development of new metal materials. In total, there are six new tooling applications the company is targeting.
For plastic manufacturing, ExOne offers X1 MetalTool, for replacing standard steel or aluminum tooling for injection molding, as well as blow molding and other plastic and foam forming processes. This product is available in a steel-bronze material, 316L stainless steel, M2 tool steel and other materials. It can be machined, acid etched and polished, making it ideal for complex inserts. While X1 MetalTool has passed preliminary tests, the company is seeking development partners to test its durability further. X1 ThermoForm is a 3D printed sand form infiltrated with tough resin and coated for thermoforming objects small and large.
For composites, there’s X1 Layup, also a 3D printed sand form infiltrated with tough resin. It is coated with a material particularly for high temperature composite layup, with dimensional tolerances of +/- 0.025” and machined to +/- 0.005” when needed. X1 Washout is 3D printed sacrificial sand tooling, featuring a water-soluble binder that is washed out with tap water once composite layup and autoclaving has been performed. This makes it suitable for ducting, mandrels and other shapes with trapped regions.
For metals, X1 SandCast takes advantage of ExOne’s history in 3D printing for sand molds and cores for metal casting. X1 MetalTool is meant for 3D printing metal tooling, including for plastic forming, as well as direct production of end-of-arm tools and durable, consumable cutting tools. X1 DieMold is meant for 3D printed die molds made in H13 tool steels. This is still in development, as multiple partner firms are performing proof of concept tests.
These products can all be purchased directly from ExOne Adoption Centers or by acquiring an ExOne 3D printer for making them in-house. The sand and sand-infiltrated tools (X1 ThermoForm, Layup, Washout, and SandCast) are made with the ExOne S-Max, allowing for print sizes of up to 1800 x 1000 x 700 mm (70.9 x 39.4 x 27.6 in.), as well as the ability to join multiple pieces together to create larger molds before epoxy infiltration is applied. X1 MetalTool and DieMold tools are made with the X1 25Pro, offering a build volume of 400 x 250 x 250 mm (15.75 x 9.84 x 9.84 in). However, the company is developing tooling options with the X1 160Pro and its 800 x 500 x 400 mm (31.5 x 19.7 x 15.8 in) build volume.
To demonstrate the possibilities, Sweden’s Celwise AB showcased the use of X1 MetalTool 316L for molding “eco-friendly” packaging and products made from wood and other cellulose fibers. The company estimates that it can cut turnaround time by 20 percent and costs by 30 to 40 percent. North American Mold has begun proving out X1 MetalTool 420i and 316L injection molding and blow molding and will continue working with ExOne on the technology, with wider commercial readiness anticipated in the first half of 2022.
“Today’s launch of the X1 Tooling portfolio is the direct result of strong customer demand for tooling options that speed up delivery times and bring tooling closer to the point of final production, wherever that is for them,” said John Hartner, ExOne’s CEO. “As the COVID pandemic has continued disrupting supply chains, we’ve had more and more manufacturers ask us: ‘Can you 3D print tooling?’ Today, we’d like the market to know that the answer is yes — we can help de-risk your supply chains and make them more sustainable, with less shipping and other forms of waste. Our new tooling portfolio is a grand slam of fast and affordable new tooling options for manufacturers.”
Hartner’s point is a great one. One of the most important ways that 3D printing has aided the operations of global manufacturers amid the pandemic was by producing stop-gap tooling. This was important not just when companies were struggling with bottlenecks associated with their existing tooling suppliers, but when businesses retooled to manufacturing ventilator components at the behest of local governments.
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