For over two decades, German service bureau Prototypenzentrum GmbH (PTZ) has been fabricating both plastic and metal prototypes and small series jobs for a variety of different industries, using CNC milling, injection molding, casting, and additive manufacturing technologies; PTZ offers selective laser melting, selective laser sintering, and stereolithography 3D printing processes, in addition to extrusion-based 3D printing. Recently, the company was having a tough time creating a solution for a fairly demanding application, and turned to metal 3D printing—specifically with pure copper—using the Metal X platform by Markforged.
The tool cooler PTZ was working on, often used in high-precision mills, is meant to engage, and then disengage, a cutting tool in an endmill’s shank using thermal expansion and contraction. The tool could be reconfigured much faster the more conductive the tool cooler was, and while it was originally made from machined aluminum, ultimately this was not the best solution. It was easy to fabricate the tool cooler this way, but it had less than desirable cycle times due to poor thermal performance.
The first alternate solution PTZ attempted was 3D printing the tool cooler out of aluminum alloy AlSi10Mg, using selective laser melting technology. This worked in the sense that the part featured complex internal cooling channels, which improved its performance, but unfortunately it couldn’t withstand the cooling medium. In addition, the SLM process the service bureau used was not easy to implement, as well as being cost-prohibitive.
PTZ then turned to Markforged, by way of its Birmingham-based partner Mark3D, which distributes the company’s 3D printing systems, software, materials, and accessories in the UK. This is how the service bureau came upon the Metal X, which was officially unveiled at CES 2017; an updated version, the Metal X Gen 2, was released this summer. Used to print metal parts in several demanding industries, including defense, the Metal X uses bound metal printing technology, and is said to deliver a Z layer resolution of 50 μm – 125 μm, post-sintering.
It seems that the Metal X, and Markforged’s copper filament, were the perfect combination for PTZ to improve its tool cooler. Markforged introduced pure 3D printable copper last year, and the material has excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, but is hard to use with laser-based metal 3D printers because of its high reflectivity. Most printers that can process pure copper are pretty pricey, but the Metal X is a lower-cost option. In addition, the design for the part was already a pretty close fit with the design space of the Metal X.
PTZ designed the part with conformal cooling channels for more efficiency, which ended up really working out and offering 38% faster cooling than previous iterations of the tool cooler. Traditional manufacturing could not have created the part with these cooling channels, and the service bureau will also save approximately 111 hours a year on the tool cooler because using 3D printing made it possible to get rid of about 40 tool changes a day that would occur with two CNC machines. Plus, with the average hourly machine rate, PTZ can save nearly $7,000 annually in machine time by using the Metal X to 3D print its tool cooler out of copper. The service bureau plans to continue using Markforged Copper to create electrotechnical parts for automotive devices.
The metal AM market will be one of the key verticals discussed at Additive Manufacturing Strategies 2022, held by 3DPrint.com and SmarTech Analysis March 1-3 as a hybrid event, both online and in-person in New York City. The first day of the summit will be all about metal 3D printing, and include presentations and discussions about emerging applications for metal AM series production, industrial metal AM, and metals themselves, including titanium, aluminum, and refractory metals. Register today to join us!
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