Among the methods available to create direct-to-metal aluminum prototype tools, the competitive products aim for greater speed and accuracy. A relatively new technology developed by Solidica promises to exceed current limits in both categories.
The company recently unveiled its Formation 2030, a machine designed with a patented technology called Ultrasonic Consolidation (UC). Essentially, this system uses ultrasonic energy to merge layers of metal and create true metallurgical bonds. The unit also includes high-speed milling capabilities so that aluminum cores and cavities can be created in a single machine with a single setup. Feature-to-feature accuracies of the tools created are +/-.002 to +/-.005 inch over a work envelope of 20 by 30 inches.
By combining both machining and rapid tooling in one system, Solidica aims to reduce lead times, lower capital costs, and improve productivity. While this system currently handles aluminum tools only, other tooling materials are in the research pipeline, according to Dawn White, president and founder. "This method finally eliminates the need to create a plastic or wax pattern via SLA or SLS, make a mold, and then cast and finish a part," she says.
|Aluminum prototype tools in days, not weeks? By combining milling and metal deposition in one machine, Solidica makes this kind of speed a reality.|
Early beta testing demonstrates that the process cuts the time and cost of producing functional parts during the product development cycle by more than 50 percent. For example, manufacture of a 10-by-12-by-3-inch aluminum injection molding prototype tool typically requires use of multiple manufacturing processes over a period of two to four weeks at a cost of up to $20,000. Using Solidica's system, this same tool is built over seven days at a cost of $5000. Beta developers include Ivex Packaging, the nation's largest manufacturer of food, drug, and microchip packaging; Raytheon, a major defense contractor; and the gas turbine industrial power systems division of a Fortune 500 company.
"With this system, end users have the advantage of a single machine that can create deep slots and complex features, deposit material at high speeds, achieve the the dimensional accuracy of machining, and add conformal cooling to the mold," says White. "Since the early days of rapid tooling there has been a pent-up demand from manufacturers for a proven direct-to-metal solution that is accurate, repeatable, and reliable. Solidica has brought together some of the best talent in the business to deliver on that long-held promise of functional rapid tools."
Prior to founding Solidica, White held technology development positions in rapid tooling and other manufacturing areas with Ford Motor Co., MTS Systems, and the U.S. Army. "We believe our system will advance the way manufacturers produce aluminum tooling to a new level," she says.
Solidica Inc., Ann Arbor, MI