3D printing offers substantial benefits to the manufacturing sector–by this point, that’s certainly not news in itself. What is news, though, is each additional use which proves yet another aspect of the versatility and innovation possible with industrial additive manufacturing. By using high-tech materials with lightweighting benefits, components created via AM techniques offer proven, substantial cost savings over traditional methods.
In terms of high-volume manufacturing, savings of even 5-10% would certainly be seen as “substantial”–but what we’re talking about here is a reduction in tooling costs of 70%.
Automated Dynamics has realized those incredible savings, recently utilizing Stratasys‘ FDM technology to reduce tooling costs by a minimum of 60-70% during the manufacturing of helicopter blade prototypes.
Schenectady, New York-based Automated Dynamics was founded in 1984, and since then has been creating reliable composite structures for customers in the high-tech, high-precision aerospace, automotive, defense, and petroleum industries. A customer in the aerospace industry recently approached Automated Dynamics with an urgent order, looking for a 4-foot helicopter blade.
Ralph Marcario, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Automated Dynamics, noted that his company’s engineering team had found that traditional ceramic or metal sacrificial cores for such products led to tooling costs that were quite high. The engineers turned to FDM soluble cores in order to fulfill the helicopter blade order, seeking to reduce tooling costs while producing appropriately high-quality prototypes.
“There is often significant engineering design that needs to happen when metallic tooling is chosen, but in the case of choosing tooling with FDM there is less hands-on time involved,” said John Michasiow, mechanical design engineer and program manager assigned of Automated Dynamics. “In some cases metallic tooling may not even be an option. Our estimated tooling cost savings was around 60-70% at minimum.”
To create the helicopter blade tool, the team at Automated Dynamics turned to CADimensions, a Stratasys reseller, which 3D printed the parts using the high-temperature-capable SR-100 soluble support material on their Fortus 400mc 3D Production System. Within 24 hours, the composite component was dissolved by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. Total turnaround for the component would typically be up to six weeks using metallic tooling methods–but by using FDM soluble cores, tooling turnaround was approximately one week.
Stratasys’ FDM technology use in soluble core manufacturing leads to faster production times with slashed costs and no need for removal processes which can be rather harsh. This technique can be seen as reversing the roles in general 3D printing processes, wherein the support model is manufactured using thermoplastics and the core created with soluble breakaway support. The simple removal of the thermoplastic supports then expose the core, which is wrapped with the preferred composites. The composite material is cured in place over the soluble part, and finally the piece is submerged in water, dissolving the core. By using FDM technology, rather than clamshell tooling and bonding, stronger parts are ultimately produced, with a broader range of possible geometries–all in less time and at a far lower cost.
This process is similar to one we saw in January, utilized to help the Porsche 997 reach higher speeds.