Written by Josh Martin, CEO & Co-founder at Fortify
In 1987, the first commercially available 3D printer (SLA-1) hit the market. Over the past 35 years, 3D printing has evolved from a sci-fi technology used to create quick proof-of-concepts with limited functionality to a force that is redefining manufacturing across multiple industries. Since then, the additive manufacturing (AM) market size has been doubling every 3-4 years, with several reports estimating it will break $100B before the end of this decade. With the expansion of AM technology in recent years, it is easy to assume that rapid growth means that AM is headed for mainstream adoption. While AM technology has grown, it has grown in a relatively narrow application space and is far from creating a meaningful impact on the industry or society as a whole. A better metric for success in the AM industry, rather than market size, is to look at the number of unique applications in AM that are creating value in ways that traditional manufacturing cannot.
Image source: figure adapted from ARK Investment Management LLC
The growth of the AM market has been, up until now, powered by prototyping. Advances in the consumer printer segment have made prototyping more accessible than ever before, resulting in more rapid product development. Printed molds, tools, and fixtures have been sought after for decades and are beginning to see wider adoption across multiple industries including medical devices, consumer goods, and industrial manufacturing. One of my favorite printed mold success stories is that of patient-specific dental aligners provided by Align Technology. As of this writing, Align has served over 10 million patients and has a market cap of over $38B (which is ~17x that of the largest public 3D printing manufacturer). ARK research claims there’s merely 4% of market penetration of molds and tools, indicating there is plenty of room for growth (see below). While prototyping, tools, and molds are enabling AM to gain traction, manufacturing end-use parts will allow AM to command the space it occupies.
Image source: figure adapted from ARK Investment Management LLC
Written by Craig Crossley, Applications Engineer at Fortify
What is it?
For the past several decades, 3D printing has become synonymous with rapid prototyping and increased its notoriety as a viable manufacturing alternative. Improvements to printing processes, sintering, finishing and materials have opened doors to new opportunities that were previously thought to be impossible. For example, the ability to 3D print injection mold tools for short run prototyping and production projects. This relatively new application is beginning to gain momentum for product developers, tool makers and contract manufacturers due to several unique advantages.
Those familiar with conventional injection molding (IM) for production purposes are well aware of the inherent benefits associated. An aluminum tool can produce thousands of parts, and steel tools remains the most efficient mass production method available today. However, the process doesn’t always yield the best results, and tooling mistakes can become economically problematic very quickly. Prototype injection molding with 3D printed tools has become a viable bridge-to-production tool and may be worth considering.
First, it’s important to understand the time and cost differences between the different prototype methods. Our engineering experts at Fortify present the following:
Prototype injection mold tooling with 3D printing is uniquely advantageous to designers and engineers because it is an inexpensive and fast way to make mistakes. Hard or aluminum tooling is costly and very difficult to alter once the mold has been delivered, making it a logistical and financial nightmare. The data below shows how significant the cost difference is when comparing multiple prototype methods. Not to mention, a dramatic decrease in the product development timeline.
How is it used?
Prototype injection molding is a bridge-to-production method that minimizes risks and improves product validation well before mass manufacturing. The use of injection molding to prototype is beneficial for several reasons; (1) functional testing with end-use materials, (2) engineering & customer feedback, and (3) eliminating unforeseen challenges in production.
When is the break-even point?
Prototype injection mold tools can be created with a variety of different technologies. As previously presented, it’s possible to use hard tooling, aluminum, or 3D printing depending on resources and availability. To put it into perspective, a normal mold order for a complex part that requires threads, texturing or undercuts could take approximately 5-8 weeks with an aluminum tool. That’s assuming that there are no alterations or changes within that time to further delay the process. However, Fortify offers a unique path towards a much faster and flexible solution. The gantt chart below shows a traditional 3 phase injection molding process. Presuming that the product development (Phase one) takes approximately three weeks, we can determine the next steps in the process comparing aluminum vs. Fortify molds.
Notice that the first shots with Fortify IM tools are delivered early in Phase 2 while aluminum tooling takes much longer, resulting in parts being shipped at the beginning of Phase 3 (~two weeks later). Assuming you require a single iteration, Fortify can produce parts immediately and have them available in as little as three days. The design finishes on Monday, printing begins overnight then cleaning and curing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the molds/inserts are coated and parts are ready in a few hours. Second iteration? Third iteration? No problem, we repeat the process with an identical timeframe.
Why is it so valuable?
The bottom line is the bottom line. Cost and time savings have been referenced several times throughout this guide, and it’s important to address it directly. 3D printed IM tools are perfect for the low volume production of prototypes or end-use parts. For any application, it’s important to determine what exactly is low volume and how it pertains to your particular product. This is not easy, so we recommend speaking with an expert to determine what makes the most sense for your application and process.
Using a 6 x 4 x 2 model, we can establish a cost analysis for prototype injection mold tooling that compares Fortify, rapid prototyping, and
conventional aluminum processes. While it’s important to note that an aluminum mold will last for 1 – 10,000 parts, 3DP tools are much less expensive and provide more flexibility when it comes to design changes or part complexity. For example, injection molded parts with sharp corners, thin ribs or undercut features will generally be more expensive because it requires a secondary process called EDM machining. Complexity comes free with Fortify, and nowhere near as costly or problematic.
Analyzing the 6 x 4 x 2 Model
|Process||25 Parts||50 Parts||75 Parts|
|Fortify IM Tool||$300 + Material Cost||$300 + Material Cost||$300 + Material Cost|
|Aluminum IM Tool||$5,000 + MC||$5,000 + MC||$5,000 + MC|
The table above compares several methods of producing multiple prototypes or low volume production. As you can see, rapid prototyping of multiple parts starts to get relatively expensive as the quantity increases, but is still nowhere near the cost of an aluminum tool for less than 100 parts. However, the Fortify IM tool is significantly less expensive and just as capable to mold parts with the appropriate end-use materials. In fact, an engineering team can redesign a prototype injection mold tool with Fortify over 15 times for the same cost as a singular aluminum mold.
Where can I learn more?
Historically, 3D printed tools were considered a gimmick and unqualified due to a lack of material capabilities. They were brittle and unable to withstand the high temperatures of molding, leaving many engineers without a viable alternative. That is, until Fortify presented a technology that is flexible, inexpensive, and strong enough to mold parts in end-use materials. Ceramic fiber reinforced materials are revolutionary for the prototype injection mold market that enables a true bridge-to-production tool that will save engineers time and money, without sacrificing quality.
Inject a variety of thermoplastics that include polycarbonate, nylon 66, ABS and POM from a Fortify mold that is ~90% cheaper than aluminum. The conventional IM tooling process can take up to eight weeks to get parts delivered, imagine having those same parts within days? Fail fast and fail often by quickly redesigning prototype IM tools and testing parts immediately, getting to market faster than ever before.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can maximize prototype injection molding with Fortify, contact us today.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON PLASTICS TODAY- Written by VP of Business Development, Ben Arnold
Speed to market is critical. In our hyper-competitive industrial and consumer industries, new product development is moving faster than ever before with no signs of slowing down. OEMs, suppliers and contract manufacturers are struggling to meet the demands of their customers, and are actively searching for new solutions that improve processes and meet deadlines. The technological advancements in rapid prototyping have made it possible for product developers to fail fast and fail often when it comes to product testing and validation. However, many design engineers and manufacturing specialists are now challenged to further optimize the product development lifecycle, and must identify efficient ways to produce the right quantity of prototypes to proactively solve problems and get to market first.
Oftentimes, new product development (NPD) is a complex process that commonly introduces unforeseen challenges that extend timelines. This inevitably leads to production delays, reduces the competitive advantage and of course, reduces profitability. In order to effectively increase your NPD timeline, what steps must be taken throughout the process? What should your early stage prototype development look like? How many prototypes are necessary for testing and evaluation purposes? When would it make sense to build 100+ prototypes?
The following article provides quick guidance to determine the right quantity of prototypes throughout the product development lifecycle, and how to advance NPD timelines.
The value of having a physical prototype in hand can never be underestimated. What used to be a highly manual process has improved immensely with 3D printing, machining, and other technologies that enable highly accurate parts representative of the original engineering design and purpose. During early-stage product development, one-off prototypes are created to immediately test form and fit. For example, electronics manufacturers developing new clamshell designs must insert circuit boards, wires, harnesses, and so forth that make the product operational. Multiple iterations are typically required, and it’s common that engineering changes may lead to completely new designs and overhauls.
Depending on access to prototyping resources — technologies or materials — engineers find themselves either producing parts in-house or outsourcing to contract manufacturers. It’s challenging to determine how many one-off prototypes will be necessary for your specific application but it’s important to make an educated guess since outsourcing prototype parts can become expensive.
Recommendation: Typically, 3D printing is the ideal process for one-off prototypes due to speed and accuracy benefits. In some scenarios machining is a great option, so it ultimately depends on your early-stage product development requirements. Consider how many different iterations you may go through and what type of materials are necessary to test form and fit. The single caveat to this process is the ability to test functionality and part performance.
Successfully advancing the NPD timeline relies on the ability to make quick improvements. While the definition of quick is subjective, the process of prototype testing and collecting engineering feedback is not. This is about determining the absolute qualities of the product and ensuring that the mechanical properties will meet the required standards and customer expectations. Once a prototype design is settled upon, the next stage of the NPD life cycle is functional testing. Note: Poor results during functionality testing may force redesigns and revisiting the early-stage process.
It’s not uncommon that an engineering department will require 30 to 50 identical prototypes for testing or feedback purposes. Depending on the product intent, this includes measuring impact resistance, ductility, bending, fatigue, UV resistance, and more. In addition, there are multiple stakeholders involved in NPD that may or may not be physically located in the same place. Having access to this quantity of prototypes enhances engineering communications throughout multiple departments and eliminates unnecessary delays. Functional testing alone justifies the need for many parts, but the intangible benefits that come with the ability to quickly communicate internally and externally will certainly lead to faster time to market.
Recommendation: Proper examination during the functional testing and feedback stage requires multiple identical parts. This type of low-volume production request can be accomplished with 3D printing, machining, or molding processes. However, the time to produce this quantity of parts with 3D printing negates the inherent speed benefits, and traditional molding tools can be expensive, especially when a final design isn’t approved. MoldMaking Technology provides a great tool to evaluate tooling costs. Determining your break-even point between these technologies will make a difference to the bottom line and keep your product development ahead of schedule.
Learn how DeMarini Sports tackles this dilemma
The healthcare market is notorious for releasing products early to high-end users and influencers. A soft launch approach such as this happens frequently for all industries, but the medical device market is certainly unique. Gaining real-world feedback from those utilizing the product in its operational environment is uniquely beneficial for several reasons:
Image courtesy of: Minitab blog (source)
As your business enters the final stage of development and prepares for product launch, engineers may be tasked with producing 100+ prototypes for beta testing. The prototypes, or early products, must look, feel, and function as intended. At this time, it’s important to take an honest assessment of your 3D-printing capabilities and acknowledge that this technology may not be the appropriate solution. Cost, material limitations, or a combination of both, can be barriers to low-volume production parts.
Recommendation: For the most part, the design is complete and your product is ready to go to market. It’s rare in the 3D-printing industry to find a technology that can simultaneously print end-use materials that meet acceptable cosmetic qualities. This limits the use of 3D printing for low-volume production. While molding is a much better option to produce parts that meet function and aesthetic standards, tooling can get very expensive — especially when mistakes or design changes lead to multiple iterations.
3D-printed mold tooling is a bridge-to-production method that enables engineering teams to combine the low cost of 3D printing with the productivity of injection molding. When your team requires 30 to 100 identical prototypes to quickly advance the product development life cycle, 3DP IM tooling may be the solution. It’s an inexpensive way to quickly redesign and print tools on demand that are injected with end-use materials and exceed quality expectations.
Written by Karlo Delos Reyes, VP of Applications
Fiber alignment is a key driver in the mechanical performance of composite parts. In the world of injection molding, where fiber alignment is typically dictated by shear forces and resin flow, molders are beholden to intricate design techniques and complex gating strategies to influence fiber alignment. This is a complex process with many tradeoffs.
The effect of fiber orientation on properties such as tensile strength, and stiffness are well documented. The mechanical properties of a part are strongest along the axis of the fibers and degrade as orientation moves off that axis.
Because fiber alignment is critical to achieving optimal material properties, many groups have looked into methods of aligning fiber in an additively manufactured part. The most commonly used method is to compound an engineering thermoplastic (FFF feedstock) with short fibers and utilize the shear forces exerted upon the bead during extrusion to orient fibers along the extrusion direction. This method, however, has many limits, as complex alignment paradigms are not so easy to employ. This method also has limitations typical of FFF, such as extreme anisotropy.
Fortify is rising to this challenge – creating additive manufacturing solutions to enable engineering grade material properties with control over fiber alignment.
The first solution that Fortify’s engineers have developed is CKM (Continuous Kinetic Mixing; Read more about the CKM technology here). This system allows for the incorporation of engineering additives, such as fibers, into a photopolymer. This system gives FLUX 3D printers the ability to process and print highly viscous, filled materials.
Fluxprint, a module that enables the printer to orient fibers during the DLP 3D printing process, takes this a step further. Fluxprint utilizes custom electromagnets to apply a magnetic field across the build area during printing to align reinforcing fibers. This enables an increase in mechanical performance of 3D printed parts for applications that undergo stressful conditions, such as injection mold tooling.
The ability to align fibers optimally throughout a part is exciting, but that ability does have a cost. The challenge of determining optimal alignment and then embedding that information into a print file is a new step in the additive manufacturing workflow. In some applications that extra effort is well worth the effort.
For the mold tooling application, Fortify engineers have determined that a predetermined fiber orientation scheme throughout the part is the best approach. This provides the benefits of fiber alignment without the overhead of programming.
Fortify developed a programmed alignment scheme for injection mold tools that thread the needle between optimal material properties and manufacturing time.
To validate and perfect the approach, Fortify’s applications engineers designed a developmental mold geometry to serve as a “torture test” that is meant to quantitatively assess the nuanced difference in mold performance between materials, alignment schemes, and processing conditions.
This test geometry contained over 30 unique features that simulate various injection molded geometries, such as tall extrusions, fine textures, blind pockets, and shut-offs. To acquire the most usable data from this tool, the engineers included varying levels of difficulty for each of these features by varying dimensions such as draft angle and aspect ratio.
To determine the effect of fiber alignment on molding outcomes, two variations of the same tool were printed:
These two tools were then processed on Fortify’s 30 ton injection molder using the same exact molding and processing conditions, and feature failures were logged. The results demonstrated significant improvements in tools with the pre-programmed fiber alignment using Fluxprint.
The mold that utilized magnetic alignment of fibers (Fluxprint) exhibited 80% less feature failures than the tool that was printed without Fluxprint. More importantly, difficult features, such as fins and tall extrusions more frequently survived the molding process in the tool that underwent Fluxprint. These difficult features are typically a common failure of 3D printed mold tools. The tool that was printed with Fluxprint had many of the standing features outlast the tool without Fluxprint
The value of 3D printed mold tools – cost savings, time savings, validating designs, prototyping, etc. – can only be truly realized if the tools can hold up to the harsh conditions of the injection molding . Historically, 3D printed tools have not been able to perform for these low-volume applications – with failures seen as early as the first shot.
By leveraging CKM and Fluxprint – with the preset fiber orientation scheme – Fortify is able to create short run tools that can process harder plastics with greater tool life.
See the difference for yourself in this video that compares Fortify’s 3D printed mold tools that use Fluxprint compared to other 3D printed parts.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY – Written by VP of Business Development, Ben Arnold
The use of 3D printed injection mold tooling has been discussed, debated and tested extensively over the past 20 years. Implementation of the technology has steadily gained traction. While the technology is still far from “commonplace,” true innovators have now fully embraced it across many industries.
Even during the current global pandemic, interest is strong and suppliers like Fortify are seeing a rash of new inquiries.
Advances in both metal and polymer 3D printing technologies have helped drive the acceptance of 3D printed tooling around the general themes of lower cost and faster turnaround. A frequent customer question that comes up is, “Which is better?” This article outlines that “better” is the wrong metric. Instead, molders should be looking at the key differences between metal and polymer 3D printed tooling, and where in the product lifecycle each technology fits best. (Spoiler: 3D printed mold tools should be leveraged for prototype injection molding).
While both technologies offer significant COST and TIME advantages, the way these benefits are calculated is vastly different. Users of polymer based cores and cavities, focus on the TIME it takes to get first shots in hand. These molds can be printed and run within a few days. Multiple design iterations can be validated within a single week with this approach – essential for prototype injection molding. Users can cut months of time from new product releases. One tradeoff to consider is polymer 3D printed tooling does run longer cycle times as the molds do not cool quickly. These longer cycles are typically acceptable as required part quantities are low during the early prototype stage.
The COST of polymer based 3D printed tooling also has important tradeoffs to consider. Polymer based tools can be printed for 60-90% less than metal (several hundred dollars or less versus $3,000 – $8,000 for metal). While these savings are compelling, tool lifetime needs to be factored in to get a true picture. Metal tools can be expected to last tens or hundreds of thousands of cycles while polymer tool life is typically measured in hundreds of shots.
In early lifecycle stages, when 50-100 parts are needed, this equation is easy to solve.
Polymer 3D printed tools can be outsourced to a service bureau, or produced on in-house equipment for fastest response times. In either case, polymer based tools require some design considerations to get best results. This includes more generous draft angles and venting strategies. A more complete review of designer considerations for using 3D Printed Polymer tools can be found (here.)
Regardless of your sourcing strategy 3D printed polymer mold tools, it’s wise to work with a supplier that has deep technical knowledge of the application and can help you make the right design choices.
The capital investment for polymer 3D printers ranges from under $10,000 to several hundred thousand. Choosing the right printer is dependent upon build capacity and material properties needed for a specific application. Molding engineering grade plastics like ABS, PCs, Nylons and higher, requires 3D printed mold tooling that is printed with very high performance materials that are not typically available to run on entry level printers.
With 3D printed metal tooling, TIME advantages are focused on cycle time and productivity. The key attribute of the metal technology is the ability to fabricate molds with sophisticated conformal cooling channels that allow faster cycle times. This is a natural fit for high volume scenarios where cycle times are critical. Conformal cooling channels are simply not possible to manufacture with traditional machining techniques. Note that conformal cooling benefits do not translate to polymer based tools with their low heat transfer coefficient.
The COST savings associated with metal 3D printed tooling are typically realized on the production floor – not in the building of the tool itself. Metal 3D printers and materials are expensive, and the molds require significant post processing and machining before they can be put into production. Some exciting new technologies are available now that integrate additive and subtractive technologies and help close this gap. Material choices and quality levels of metal 3D printed molds are also trending upward making this option more attractive.
As the mold cost gap between traditional and 3D printed metal tools narrows, the big payoff for using metal 3D printed mold tools continues to be higher press utilization rates. For example, when cycle times are reduced by 20% the press utilization goes up 20%. Molders can get more parts out the door each day with the same capital equipment. More parts shipped = more money and higher customer satisfaction.
The two faces of 3D printed mold tooling don’t actually compete – rather they compliment each other as products make their way from concept through maturity.
Conformal cooling design is not practical at the prototype injection molding stage when designs are still evolving. Likewise, polymer based tools, with longer cycle times and limited life are not a practical solution for volume production.
One theme that is consistent with both technologies is they both require an investment and commitment on the part of the molder to learn how to best leverage the technology. This is the basis for building a sustainable competitive advantage in the market.
At Fortify, we are focused on raising the bar for 3D printed polymer tooling by incorporating reinforcing fiber to the material. These tools can withstand “challenging materials” to provide plenty of shots for prototype injection molding
An often overlooked, but key enabling aspect of additive manufacturing, is the software suite, workflows, algorithms that allow the user to create, adapt, and manufacture 3D printed parts. The true power of additive can not be fully realized without the software, hardware, and materials working in concert.
One of the main facets of any 3D printing software is the slicing tool path generation that generates the g-code that tells the printer each individual layer to print. With a proper slicing tool built into the software, a user is able to not only visually see each layer, but can also make any adjustments necessary, whether it’s layer height, overhangs, or any other changes to set your part up on the build plate. You can also set up your orientation, how many parts you want to put into a single print, and generate supports where needed.
Another component of software is the user interface on the printer itself. This takes many shapes and forms depending on the type of printer. Visually, the interface should be set up to optimize the user experience. More importantly, it should provide essential information to the user about material level, print status, error notifications, etc. It’s important the interface works in tandem with the printer, alerting users when something needs attention, and stopping a print.
The value in 3D printing is that you can create more economical, faster and sustainable manufacturing processes than traditional manufacturing methods. Without the 3D printing software to put those checks in place, you run the risk of creating inefficiencies and failed prints.
At Fortify, we have a seasoned software team developing applications that further unlock the capabilities of the FLUX ONE printer, while enabling the user through design and user experience. With the introduction of Compass (Fortify’s software platform), a user can easily create and manage build files, optimize for various parameters such as print speed, and share files with other users. These files are then seamlessly transitioned into Fluxhost, the onboard printer controller.
Check out some of the pro-tips below from actual use cases.
What is it: Through the use of the onboard camera, users can monitor the progress of a print by observing the peeling mechanism from underneath the reservoir.
Why it matters: With traditional bottom-up DLP and SLA printers, it’s difficult to monitor your print as the part is submerged in the reservoir for potentially several hours. Without the ability to closely monitor the process, errors printing in your part can be missed – wasting time and resources.
How to use it: To use this feature, simply touch the Camera button on the right side of the screen to pull up the Camera module. This view can be called upon anytime the printer is in Printing mode.
Use Case: While the print is progressing, turn on the Camera module to observe each layer plunge and peel. You’ll also be able to observe the outline of the layer, which should be an exact replica of the projected image.
What is it: Compass can help you avoid these three common printing mistakes:
a. Overlapping parts (slicer preview)
b. Out of bounds parts (slicer red areas)
c. Overhangs and unsupported features
Why it Matters: When preparing a build, it is often useful to fact check the slices (the 2 dimensional images that stack to create a 3 dimensional part) to ensure print success. Things that may not seem obvious from general observation, such as overlapping parts, can cause build failures and lost productivity. Through Compass 3D printing software, we’ve implemented tools to directly point out different failure modes so that they can be addressed pre-print. For example, we highlight both overlapping and out-of-bounds parts so that these can be immediately remedied.
Use Case: One major pain point we’re looking to address is to validate if a part will print and have no unsupported features. Without an easy to use slicing tool, you’re left exporting the files and manually checking each image for unsupported features. Using our slicing tool, you can easily scrolls through the slices of the print to ensure that there are no features that will print unsupported.
What is it: Fluxhost (the software interface on Fortify printers) is designed to keep the user from having to worry about guesswork when it comes to reservoir levels, maintenance, and more.
Why it matters: All large pieces of equipment have a handful of wear components that need to be replaced after a certain number of cycles. Much like the filter in your AC unit, many users forget or neglect to perform proper maintenance, which leads to poor results. Proper care of printers leads to successful prints and longer lasting pieces of hardware. Instead of having to refer to a manual (that you’ve probably misplaced or have in some file on your computer) Fluxhost takes the guesswork out for you. Fluxhost has alerts and monitors built in.
How to use it: It’s automatically set up on the Fluxhost platform. Some screen shots below show examples of the alerts and notifications the user will see.
Use Case: On the Flux One system, one parameter that should be monitored is the resin level. When the resin level gets too low, the screen will intelligently alert you to add more resin into the mixer drawer.
This post was written by VP of Applications and Co-Founder Karlo Delos Reyes.
It’s time for a step-change in 3D printing. Over the past few decades, many additive manufacturing companies have focused on making the technology faster, more affordable, with incremental improvements in performance. We have yet to hit, however, a boost in functionality and performance that will propel photopolymer-based 3D printing, otherwise known as vat polymerization, to the next level of performance needed to go beyond prototyping.
Fortify, through the development of the Digital Composite Manufacturing (DCM) platform, enables the incorporation of functional additives into engineering photopolymers. The result is a new material palette with increased functionality and performance. The DCM platform leverages Digital Light Processing (DLP), allowing users to harness the scalability and surface quality of traditional photopolymers systems with next generation performance that functional additives provide.
With this in mind, new material classes are being developed with different formulations of functional additives and photopolymers to tackle different properties for an array of applications. Fortify’s material palette targets mechanical and electrical performance listed below:
Materials: Mechanical Performance
Materials: Electrical Performance
|Fortify DT+ (Digital Tooling)||
The key enabling processes around this thesis are Continuous Kinetic Mixing (CKM)™ and Fluxprint™. The CKM technology allows for the facile integration of various functional additives of many different morphologies into an engineering photopolymer, on the fly. By dispensing the correct dose of functional additive and resin into the on-board mixer, the system disperses, homogenizes, and dispenses the proper formulation into your build chamber. Most importantly, CKM suspends heavy fibers and particles in the matrix, and maintains homogeneity throughout the entirety of the print, ensuring an even distribution of functional additive throughout your part. Fluxprint, on the other hand, involves the ability to magnetically manipulate anisotropic particles in the build zone. This allows the system to wirelessly control the microarchitecture of the reinforcing fibers in the part, voxel by voxel, augmenting and increasing properties such as wear, strength, and thermal conductivity.
A very brief history
The history of 3D printing traces back to the mid-1980s when Chuck Hull filed the first 3D printing patent for his invention of stereolithography (SLA). His original patent, which involved using a UV light to harden resin layer by layer, required a specific backbone chemistry, now known as acrylic and methacrylic chemistry, which has been the cornerstone of all photopolymer development for the last 4 decades. Though this chemistry has many advantages such as speed and resolution, the parts tend to be weak and brittle.
In order to address these issues, we can look to the thermoplastics world for inspiration. In the injection molding and machined thermoplastics world, in order to increase performance or otherwise modulate the functionality (thermal, electrical, etc.), functional additives are introduced into the polymer and compounded into the feedstock. For example, for increased mechanical performance, chemical companies would compound the plastic feedstock with carbon fiber to increase the strength, stiffness, and overall rigidity of the end-use part.
Which brings us back to our thesis, enhancing photopolymers with functional additives – except this time in additive manufacturing.
With the introduction of Digital Composite Manufacturing, we strive to transform how the world makes and manufactures through advanced materials. We hope to open the imaginations and enhance the creativity of materials scientists and engineers through this tool that allows them to explore chemistries, formulations, and additives that were previously precluded in traditional vat polymerization systems. We are engineering this platform so that new advanced materials can be constructed intelligently and sustainably, fundamentally transforming how manufacturers utilize additive manufacturing.
This post was written by Applications Engineer, Ben MacDonald
Injection molding has become the go-to manufacturing solution for plastic components. In 2019, the global injection molded plastics market size valued at $258.2B billion. Injection molded parts are used in a variety of industries and the application space is only expected to continue to grow. Even in automotive, plastics are trending to replace metals and alloys with injection molded plastics.
The economics behind injection molding parts is advantageous for molders, especially when the required part quantity is greater than 100,000. Though the dominant cost of injection molding is the high capital investment of a machined metal mold, once this mold is made, the costs of producing parts are minimal. Combine this with cycle times of 30 seconds or less and injection molding is a cost-effective solution for high-volume production. Even though the up-front cost of an injection mold is significant, molders can easily justify the expense based on the body of work that goes into completing a mold including:
Today, this is done with a hardened steel as it is the material of choice to withstand the intense requirements of a production run greater than 100,000 parts.
What happens when you aren’t producing hundreds of thousands of parts on a mold? With numerous industries (like electric vehicles) looking at low-volume production, how can molders justify the high cost of a tool when you are producing only hundreds of parts? Furthermore, because of the high cost of prototype tooling (sometimes called soft tooling or bridge tooling) designers find it impossible to rationalize properly prototyping parts. Rather than molding 10 iterations of a single part in their end-use plastic, designers are forced to take their best guess at which version will be the best for their specific application, relying on sub-par rapid prototyped parts in the interim for form, fit, and function assessment. After waiting 6-8 weeks for a tool, they either realize they selected the right design or, more often than not, have to accept the design being just good enough. In the worst case, the design is completely wrong wasting both time and money that was invested in the mold.
This is exactly where 3D printing injection molds step up to the plate. The ability to rapidly print and mold parts is game changing for part designers. 3D printed tooling exhibits faster lead times (1-2 days) at a fraction of the cost of machined soft tooling, making them a viable candidate for molders who are looking at the economics behind a tool that is only used for small volumes. Additionally, 3D printed mold tools enable designers to print and mold multiple iterations of a part. This gives them freedom to explore many more designs and confidence that their final design will be the right design. Using a 3D printed mold tool from Fortify gives part designers flexibility to mold geometries in a variety of engineering-grade plastics so that their prototypes can match their final parts. Because Fortify’s tools are fiber-reinforced they are able to maintain their stiffness and withstand the high temperatures of injection molding.
Integrating 3D printed tools into your injection molding operation for prototyping and low volume production starts with understanding the differences in the tools and how that affects how you design, machine, and run a tool.
The obvious fundamental difference between steel molds and printed molds is the material they are made out of. A good rule of thumb is to design 3D printed tools to be more “forgiving” than a steel tool. For instance:
By understanding and accepting these design differences, molders can realize significant success when molding parts. Additionally, 3D printing molds can give designers much more freedom. If a designer wanted to iterate on two features within a complete mold, they don’t have to print multiple iterations of the mold. They can simply design the features as inserts for one common mold. Furthermore, fine details and complex geometries don’t cost extra to print (unlike EDM for traditional tools), and designers are able to add in detail that would significantly drive up the cost of a steel tool.
As 3D printed injection mold tooling continues to be adopted, it is important for both part and mold designers to learn how to best design for additive. A good design will drive success. There are plenty more tips on best practices for designing, machining, and running 3D printed injection mold tools. To learn more, download our guide Best Practices for Fortify Injection Mold Tools.
Numerous industries around us are in the midst of a movement towards electrification. An excellent example of this, and the one likely to have one of the highest impacts on the global market, is the passenger vehicle. Tesla and Cybertruck aside, major automobile manufacturers are contributing to the development of our electric vehicle (EV) future. Beyond that, automotive OEMs continue to introduce more computer systems, accessories, and other features that rely on electronic interconnectivity to function. Furthermore, new industries like delivery drones and autonomous robots continue to emerge, preparing to surpass the niche category label and enter into the mainstream global market. Widespread infrastructure will be required to support this approaching electrification, which will inevitably create similar growth in associated supporting markets.
As these market shifts continue, more players and products will emerge and electrical connector manufacturers will need to remain nimble to continue to support existing and new customers. OEMs like the four North American connector giants (TE Connectivity, Aptiv, Molex, and Amphenol) may be serving a market that is characterized by a wider range of products that are manufactured at smaller volumes. Electrical connector shells and housings are mostly an injection molded product. In the case of injection molding, the most expensive part and longest lead time tends to be the manufacturing of the injection mold hard tooling. At high volumes, the cost of the tool is amortized over a large volume of parts, and makes excellent economical sense. However, to make a similar part at small volumes, the costly tool can be expensive enough to make a small-batch product run not economically viable. Most EV manufacturers are manufacturing less than 200,000 units per year, with more and more players entering this market. Finding new solutions will be essential to support the growth of these markets.
Fortify’s approach is modeled after fiber-reinforced injection molded plastic parts. Fiber reinforcement in a molded part shows 20-100% increase in mechanical properties such as strength, stiffness, and HDT. This proven uptick in material performance is why the market for reinforced plastic parts continues to grow. Fortify is applying this same methodology to end use manufacturing applications like electrical connectors. By adding reinforced fibers to the right materials during the printing process, Fortify can realize increases in electro-mechanical properties needed for high performance parts while also meeting the economic requirements of small volume manufacturing.
Small volumes and bespoke solutions are a perfect fit for 3D printing. Employing 3D printing can introduce both cost and lead time efficiencies. Smart and effective implementation of 3D printing onto the factory floor will enable economically viable low volume manufacturing runs and also shorten lead times by eliminating the need for tooling altogether.
The AM industry has started to engage with this product market fit. Collaborations with 3D printing companies and connector companies have started to see some real progress, however, challenges still remain. 3D printing OEMs are working to find THE breakthrough material + process combination that will eliminate the barrier to full AM adoption for production applications. What’s holding 3D printing back? In the case of electrical connectors, the culprit is a combination of material properties and print resolution.
Can 3D Printed Connectors Meet Auto Industry Standards
Looking closely at standard automotive electrical connectors, many housings and shells are made primarily from glass-filled engineering grade thermoplastics like PBT, PPS, or nylon. There are no players in the field who can directly 3D print PBT or PPS, but nylon has been available in 3D printing for decades – there are also glass-filled options available. For FDM and SLS, the two major commercial thermoplastic additive manufacturing technologies, there are severe limitations tied to the unavoidable physics of the technology. These processes cannot meet the resolution, surface finish, wall thickness, hole size, and tolerance requirements that are demanded of a commercial multi-cavity electrical connector. Some DLP and SLA solutions have the capability to reach these resolution requirements, but they can not print with the industry-standard thermoplastic materials like nylon and PBT, or match their properties that are critical for this application.
There are DLP and SLA companies working hard to improve their resin formulations that come closer to the high level requirements of electrical connector applications. The ability to print a part that is tough enough to survive several drops on concrete factory floors yet is also capable of surviving extended thermal cycling up to 150℃ is an engineering challenge for photopolymer material scientists. Achieving specific characteristics like high temperature resistance combined with increased toughness can unlock access to big commercial opportunities for applications in aggressive environments – like in an engine compartment or areas exposed to dramatic weather conditions. Chemical manufacturers like BASF, DSM, and Henkel have developed high temperature and V0 flammability rating engineering photopolymers with an eye on tackling the tough automotive electrical connector requirements, but a complete solution is not yet available. If our industry continues to focus on improving material properties in photocurable thermoset systems, we will be able to achieve both the resolution and material properties necessary for electrical connectors. Fortify is working with material partners to improve material performance for production parts, including electrical connectors, to meet automotive (and other industry) requirements.
With the global shift towards electrification of high value products, and continuous development of 3D printable materials teetering on the precipice of full engineering-level performance characteristics, the market is prepared for a solution. With continued collaboration between the 3D printing material developers and electrical connector OEMS, it won’t be long before we start to see real 3D printed solutions enter into this global market.
If you have an electrical connector application you would like to explore reach out to us today!
This post was written by Sr. Applications Engineer, Phil Lambert.
Two weeks after the largest Additive Manufacturing trade show, and the roundup articles are still flowing in. With several insights from industry experts, there are a lot, and we mean A LOT of new companies entering the market, while veteran companies continue to break ground with new product announcements. How do you filter through the noise? Whose technology is actually differentiated, and what applications and industries are starting to adopt these technologies?
In addition to the roundups commenting on the sheer size of this year’s show, the number of new companies displaying, and the general signs of a growing and maturing industry, Fortify has a few more general insights and takeaways from this year’s Formnext:
Can yet another startup standout?
3D Printing Media Network commented in their roundup “Ceramics and composites are getting closer to real automated production, with some very intense in-segment competition and several new players entering the market as startups and spinoffs.”
We couldn’t agree more.
There were a lot of composites on display this year, which is an indication of a fast growing segment of 3D printing. Let’s take a look at why composites are hotter than ever and what this means for the different players out there.
First let’s define a composite as two or more materials – a reinforcement and a matrix – that are combined to produce a new material offering different and improved characteristics than each of its individual materials.
Composites (or as we like to call them – fiber reinforced polymers) are widely sought after because of their incredible material properties. Carbon fiber is just one example, offering high strength to weight ratio. You might add other fibers if you seek better toughness, wear resistance, and conductive properties. Glass, ceramic, copper flake, Teflon, and even mica are different fibers that are used to fill polymers.
Injection molded parts that are fiber filled typically show 20 to 100% increases in strength, stiffness and HDT. Additive manufacturing is hungry for this type of step change in 3D printed parts, and it is no wonder that composites are gaining traction. Figuring out how to print fiber-reinforced materials to capitalize on these properties have proven to be a challenge.
This year’s Formnext featured many continuous fiber thermoplastic printers. This type of technology delivers greater load distribution and strength along the X/Y axis. However, continuous fibers cannot penetrate small, delicate regions of complex geometries, which can be the very areas of the part requiring the greatest reinforcement.
Chopped fiber solutions open up many more options for users in both extrusion and SLS based thermoplastic materials. . Unlike continuous fiber, chopped fibers are able to reinforce small geometries, such as overhangs. Chopped fiber composites are also more affordable, faster and easier to use than continuous fiber. It’s important to note that with chopped fiber, the strength of the printed part is dependent on the percent fiber used and materials will suffer from anisotropy due to layering effects.
Using a thermoset resin, Fortify has developed a method for absolute control of fibers in a reinforced polymer, creating a composite with highly sought isotropic material properties.
So to answer our question above, yes – we do think another startup can stand out – especially with a differentiating technology that leads to newly additive material properties.
What to look for at Formnext 2020
Formext 2019 proved the industry is eager for additively manufactured composites, and our crystal ball tells us that we’ll be seeing more of it next year. We expect to see more continuous fiber solutions, and maybe even some more fiber-filled thermosets. We are hopeful that more people will be talking more about alignment, and understand the importance of fiber control when it comes to fiber-filled composites that are 3D printed.
We believe the industry will continue to grow with more mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships across the supply chain. We are excited and hopeful about the future of the industry, and can feel the momentum moving forward, and we look forward to being a part of it. See you at Formnext 2020!
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