Additive manufacturing for the building of mold cores and cavities has been slow to catch on, however, it is seeing some forward movement as 3D printing technology advances. Stratasys Ltd., a global solutions provider in 3D printing and additive manufacturing, announced that Whale, a leading manufacturer of water and heating systems for mobile applications, has slashed its lead times for the production of injection mold tools for prototype parts by up to 97% since introducing Stratasys printing into its tooling process.
Whale, a manufacturer of water pumps and heating systems for marine, RV, and other mobile applications, can 3D print injection mold tools in less than 24 hours using its Objet350 Connex multi-material 3D printer. Not only does the 3D printing of molds save time but drastically reduces the cost when compared to metal tooling.
"Traditionally, our lead times for metal tools were somewhere between four-to-five weeks and came with significant production costs," said Jim Sargent, 3D technical services at Whale, based in Northern Ireland. "As a result, our R&D process was very time-consuming and fundamentally slowed down the launch of new products. With the Objet Connex 3D printer, we are now able to design our tools during the day, 3D print them overnight and test them the next morning with a range of end-product materials. The time and cost savings associated with this new tooling method are significant."
The injection mold tools are 3D printed using Stratasys' Digital ABS material, which features distinct material properties ideal for low volume part production - high temperature resistance and toughness. Whale also offers its Rapid Prototyping Service to external customers, including automotive and aerospace industries, producing 3D printed multi-material parts and tools using plastics such as polypropylene and glass-filled PP.
"Looking into the future, 3D printing is hugely revolutionary in terms of how we are going to operate as a business," explained Patrick Hurst, managing director at Whale. "We have already seen the technology take months off of our product development process and that in turn minimizes risk. In fact, I estimate that we've shortened our R&D process by up to 35% with Stratasys 3D printing solutions. And that on top of the 20% we're already saving in terms of our design work - well for me, it's fantastic."
Nadav Sella, solutions sales manager at Stratasys, adds, "We are seeing an increasing number of customers exploring the potential that 3D printed injection mold tools offer. In addition to the dramatic cost and time savings potential, our Digital ABS tools enable companies to produce parts in the real end-product material, ready to test even in the prototyping phase. Our customers can therefore make quicker test iterations and bring products to market faster."