Transformative Tooling Reaches Applications Including Concrete and PVD Coating

Our reporting from tooling’s frontier finds custom tooling succeeding in applications not usually associated with 3D printing.


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Today, there are three major arenas of additive manufacturing, and they deserve to be considered separately because they are advancing in separate ways. Those arenas are low-volume production (ones and tens of parts), high-volume production (hundreds and thousands of parts) and tooling.

In the realm of low-volume production, small 3D printers are getting more capable. Small manufacturers in growing numbers are therefore coming employ these two different options at once: 3D printers in an office-like room and traditional production equipment out on the shop floor.

In the realm of high-volume production—a realm that is mostly still promise—enough different options are being developed and proven (here is a recent new example) that at least one of these will prove to be a way that various major manufacturers carry out production runs not more than several years down the road.

And worth noting: Metal powder-bed fusion, an “established” AM technology, is still advancing in different directions (bigger and faster, as well as smaller) that will give it still more to say about both the arenas above. The newest technologies are not necessarily those that will prevail.

And then there is tooling.

That additive manufacturing is an effective choice for making custom tooling is indisputable, and it would seem that the advance of technology has nothing further to say about this now-routine use of 3D printing. However, in the realm of tooling, technology is not where the most important advance is taking place. The frontier for 3D-printed tools is instead found in the still-growing range of industries and applications that are realizing the value of this resource.

For example, while it is not a leap today for molders and machine shops to see 3D printing as a way to make tools, what about the precast concrete industry? Find the answer to that question in our latest cover story.

And what about PVD coating? Here is another application that would seem to have no daily use for 3D printing, except that it does.

Finally, let us not imagine we have found all the uses in a machine shop. Can we print press brake tooling? Yes indeed.

The story of tooling in the next several years will be the story of 3D printing’s spread into other industries and applications, including many where the leaders of those industries are not yet thinking of AM. In fact, technology will facilitate this. Two of the tooling applications cited above involve composite material—polymer filled with carbon fiber. The chance to apply ever more capable materials will allow 3D-printed tooling to reach even more industries, by transforming applications even beyond the ones we have found these recent reports from tooling’s frontier.