Disrupting the tooling industry
How additive manufacturing changes the game for custom metal tools.
Gramm is a startup based in Regensburg, Germany that specializes in additive manufacturing. The company, a longtime and experienced user of Autodesk Netfabb, recently used the software to 3D print a metal tool in much less time — and for approximately half the cost — than is typical.
The real breakthrough occurred when the Gramm team, led by Managing Director Harry Schmid, realized that 3D printing metal tools would be a faster and more repeatable process. Usually, the process is done by hand and can take up to a week. Plus, the quality of the tool depends on the intuition and experience of the individual artisan, which makes it difficult to repeat.
“This new approach could disrupt many industries because it makes manufacturing more agile,” Schmid said.
“You can go from a customer request to production much more quickly. With an automated solution, you no longer have high fixed tooling costs, which means you can accept smaller orders, complete every order faster, and incorporate customer changes more easily.”
In this particular application, the metal tool is used to shape thermoplastic pipes that guide liquids, gases, or wires through complex mechatronic systems, such as cars, while insulating and protecting them. The 3D printed tool performs just as well as conventionally produced counterparts. However, Schmid says, “Due to a special design trick, post-processing of the tool is reduced to a minimum: the support structures, a requirement for metal powder bed fusion (SLM), are included in the part’s design. Instead of removing them manually after the print as you would with regular parts, the support structures serve as a connector that allows for attachment of the tool to its handling frame.”
“We always design the supports along with the part itself. This allows us to turn the support structures from a cost item during post-processing to a value add feature,” he adds.
“Thanks to the flexibility of Netfabb, we are able to generate those support-connectors automatically using a script.”
Netfabb automatically generates the downskin and bar supports required to ensure successful printing. These features also allow the tool to be self-supporting.
But the potential applications are much broader. “There is a great deal of opportunity in general manufacturing, not just high-tech markets like aerospace and medical devices,” Schmid said. “Tooling often gets overlooked in the conversation about 3D printing because everyone is focused on making finished parts. But tooling is a huge issue in all types of manufacturing. There is very high demand for tools and they are incredibly valuable. This approach makes it easier and less expensive for any company to benefit from these tools.”
From Schmid’s perspective, additive manufacturing allows Gramm to meet a wider range of customer needs and deliver better results.
“It’s not going to replace existing technologies,” he said. “It’s going to complement them.”
“It’s very easy to get started. If you want to do machining, for example, you need to buy equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can start in 3D printing for a couple thousand.”
Schmid’s confidence about the new technique is high, and he fully expects it to help Gramm meet its growth targets.
“As a company, we want to focus on mass customized products and this is a great example of how to do that,” he said. “We hope to produce many more with Netfabb.”
See exactly how Gramm’s Managing Director Harry Schmid uses Autodesk Netfabb to import a tool design and prepare it for 3D printing in the video below.
Want to learn more about Autodesk Netfabb? Visit the website here.