Forming tools

Metal sheets can be forced into different shapes through methods such as hydroforming and rubber pad pressing. These are usually low-volume and for that reason face shortage of skilled labour, high costs and high lead times.

Metal forming tools

These undesirable qualities can be nullified by the use of FDM technology based 3D production process. FDM tools can help companies override these challenges and get from production to design within 24 hours. FDM technology also promises a range of strong materials that can be prototyped to deliver to higher ergonomics, lightness of the end product, hundreds of run cycles and little change in the current process. Custom hydroforming with FDM tooling is great for prototype making and development work, repair parts, and one–off custom parts. In the aerospace industry for example, hydroforming and rubber pad pressing are used to form sheet metal into airframe or engine components. In the automotive industry, they are used to produce engine cradles, suspension components, radiator and instrument panel support beams and engine components. Military depots produce one–off replacements for the repair of damaged vehicles and aircraft through this method.

Thermoforming

Thermoforming includes the production of sheets of extruded plastic by the application of heat. The prohibitive part of thermoforming production is the vacuum forming part and tooling costs that can tend to stake high claims when it comes to large parts. It is here that 3D printing comes across as a viable alternative. Despite short life and short tool life, 3D printing can eliminate much of the time and labour associated with machining vacuum-forming tools. Automated, unattended operations are possible that eliminate the time needed for fixturing, setup and operation of CNC machines. PolyJet or FDM patterns are employed when smooth parts are required, challenging characteristics such as deep draws or organic shapes are included, multiple designs are required and the lead time is short.