AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed Sand Tooling for ABS Plastic Vacuum Forming Production

6K SmarTech

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In the world of consumer products, speed is the name of the game. The faster products get to market, the faster they can be purchased by consumers. To maintain a true-to-factory-appearance and superior product quality for their exterior automotive panels, OAM needed durable and flexible tooling. Steel, composite, or wood tools required constant maintenance while aluminum tooling was cost and time prohibitive.

OAM turned to ExOne 3D printed thermoforming tooling after traditional methods proved to be unsustainable for business. Zach Kowalik, CEO and Co-Founder, explained the challenges of the original tooling made of steel, composite, or wood. “They required a lot of repair and maintenance, and we often struggled to place vacuum holes in precise locations due to the material and design constraints.” Although seen as the gold standard of thermoform tooling, OAM avoided aluminum because it was cost and lead time prohibitive.

With speed to market front of mind and in need of a tooling option that increased durability while also offering more flexible vacuum-hole routing, the company researched binder jetting. “When we finally discovered 3D printed tooling, we felt like we struck gold,” Kowalik said.

ABS plastic vacuum forming.

OAM typically receives its X1 ThermoForm tooling delivery about two weeks after finalizing its design. After the shape 3D printed on ExOne sand binder jetting machines the tool is infiltrated and coated to provide the durability to withstand vacuum forming production. Compared to past aluminum tools ordered by the company, the X1 ThermoForm tool was half the cost and saved over three months of lead time.

“This is a game-changer for the industry,” Kowalik said, emphasizing the role rapid tooling plays in speeding time to market. “Our product launch times are an order of magnitude faster than we could have ever dreamed of before.” The previously targeted one launch per quarter, but Kowalik now sees the company launching a product each month with the speed and cost-effectiveness of sand tooling while making product volumes not previously viable profitable and product variations an opportunity for expansion.

With quality standards akin to Class A automotive, OAM requires precision tooling that delivers consistently high results. Download the complete case study with durability results as OAM scans its 3D printed sand tool after several production runs.

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