When a new process or technology like 3D printing comes into play, making strides in nearly every direction, and downright changing the way we do things ‘around here,’ some people get upset–but most people get excited. There is also a quick response to see something like 3D printing as completely taking over–and while it may be revolutionizing manufacturing in some ways–and downright delighting many people–we can’t be too quick in suddenly throwing tried and true traditions right out the window.
While the virtues of using additive manufacturing have been touted high and low over that of subtractive lately, sometimes thinking outside of the box, as well as being disruptive, can mean going against the flow and just doing what seems to work really well–as well as using some of the systems that are still right in front of you. For Thermwood Corporation, this means shaking things up by performing both additive and subtractive manufacturing on the same machine for making large carbon graphite reinforced composite thermoplastic components. And their new idea should interest anyone who is seriously involved in manufacturing.
Historically a CNC machining company, Indiana-based Thermwood is able to make these graphic components due to the addition of a second gantry allowing for a large, mounted extruder which both heats and melts the graphite in a near shape process.
As they were delving into the world of 3D printing, the team at Thermwood Corp. turned to the expertise of American Kuhne, known manufacturers in the engineering sector for extruders made of materials like plastic, rubber, and silicone.
Based on the original Thermwood Model 77 which is an enormous, enclosed gantry machine bearing high walls and available in sizes up to a massive sixty feet in length, American Kuhne created a custom system. This was based on an extruder that would work comprehensively with the existing CNC machinery, allowing it to control and manage extrusion. With this new process, flexibility and capability are increased at Thermwood.
The new system will be able to 3D print in the classic layered structure on nearly any plane from strictly horizontal to any direction up to ninety degrees from horizontal, according to Thermwood’s blog, which goes on to add that they believe this will be crucial in the future as structures of more complexity are required in their manufacturing processes.
Once the 3D printing portion of the job is done completing its task with a nearly finished shape (thus the ‘near shape process’), it is five-axis machined in order to attain the desired–and final–shape. These shapes can be made in the form of parts that are as large as 10x10x5. The extruder is a twenty horsepower, 1 ¾ inch diameter, 24-1 L/D device, and according to Thermwood it will be able to process a stunning 100 pounds of material in just an hour. Because of the unique custom design, the machine is able to produce at an accelerated rate despite the heaviness of the extruder.
While they may be a leader in subtractive manufacturing, Thermwood was at one time a plastics processing company well-acquainted with the world of plastic extruders in factories. Not surprisingly, they see themselves as very well-equipped to bring this innovation into their segment of the industrial world. While they are not sure exactly when this may be available as a commercial system in the marketplace, the concept and design are a brilliant idea not only for Thermwood, but for other companies already involved in CNC machining, who could take on this new process as well simply by adding the new additive manufacturing gantry.
Discuss your thoughts on this new combination of traditional and progressive technology in the Thermwood forum over at 3DPB.com.
Two worlds are coming together to make a positive difference and improvement in the world of CNC machining. With the addition of a second gantry that bears a mounted extruder, Thermwood Corp. is behind a new and innovative design that allows for both additive and subtractive manufacturing on the same machine, in a ‘near shape process.’ This process allows for the extruder to 3D print the graphite into a nearly finished form which is then five-axis machined into the final shape.
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