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29 Apr 2022

Additive manufacturing and member collaboration is offering the Group considerable added value

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Many of the MAN Group’s members are reporting excellent added value benefits as they share best practice, resources and collaborate on projects by utilising additive manufacturing processes.

The technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material are proving to be an excellent technique for rapid prototyping, tooling fixtures and jigs, low volume parts, and moulds, cores, and patterns.

James Lister, MAN Group’s tube bending and manipulation, fluid power, and industrial supplies member has recently invested in its own additive manufacturing capability and has collaborated with several members to help them improve their own efficiencies by providing access to the investment and guidance based on their own experiences with the process.

Lister invests

Since Lister has invested in additive manufacturing equipment, it has seen instant improvements to processes and procedures. The Listertube business in particular is benefiting greatly.

Listertube has a wide selection of off the shelf tooling options available for tube bending requirements thanks to years of production and storage, but those options have increased quickly since the investment in an additive manufacture printer. It has opened the doors to capability within the production of the bend former as temporary tooling, meaning that it can produce some tens, or sometimes hundreds of parts before it requires replacement. Once the tool former is designed, Listertube can reprint another inexpensively and quickly. And importantly, you can consider these tools as if they were normal steel bending tools – testament to the strength and durability of the printed materials.

Additive manufacturing and member collaboration is offering the Group considerable added value
Listertube bending with printed tool

Listertube has the capability to print bend formers for tubes up to around 35mm diameter, 2mm wall thickness, based on a 2D bend radius. Therefore, when customers require a very specific diameter/radius combination that’s not readily available, additive manufacturing techniques can save time and money by replacing traditional steel toolmaking.

The technique is now being used consistently at Listertube to build tooling for checking fixtures, all generated based on tube CAD models. It offers great flexibility and is an excellent method for complex parts with multiple bends. Listertube now boasts several racks of stored checking fixtures.

Other MAN members through a process of best practice sharing, have realised the potential of additive manufacturing for similar processes and have been working in close partnership with Listers to realise its potential.

Additive manufacturing as an alternative to machined tooling parts

Brandauer can work with the widest range of metals and continue to invest in the best technology to manage the in-house design and manufacture of progression press tooling. It is a critical business capability that will always be reviewed for best practices, efficiency identification and ways in which to make tooling a more accessible option for customers either with low volume or prototype work through to high-volume precision pressing.

Supported by its engineering and toolroom departments, Brandauer utilise soft and hard machining areas, alongside a unique Wire EDM service to produce one-off precision machined parts, jigs, fixtures and press and mould tool spares for its customers. Whilst still an important service to provide, Brandauer has recognised after recent best practice sharing with Listers and instructing them on testing the technique for requirements in tooling jigs and fixtures, that the potential is eye-opening. In certain areas, machining requirements can be fulfilled with speed and cost improvements when utilising additive manufacturing techniques instead.

What really excites Brandauer is how the technique can allow for the creation of bespoke parts with complex geometries but little wastage. Complexity and precision are very important facets to Brandauer’s tooling, prototyping and full volume services, and if there is a technique that can match the precision required but also improves the environmental impact traditional techniques have on wastage, then Brandauer are all ears.

Compared to the machining techniques utilised for the same needs, the lack of material wastage provides significant cost reductions and is showing a reduction in lead times. This is sought-after value that Brandauer can add to appease stringent customer demand.

Ideal for rapid production of tool jigs and fixtures, the digital process also allows for design flexibility, where alterations can be made quickly – a benefit that is easily transferrable to the production of prototype and one-off component requirements. Listertube has also been enthused by prototyping opportunities where previously they wouldn’t have been possible because of the cost of tooling.

Beyond using the technique to produce new jigs and fixtures, Brandauer can consider quicker replacement pieces too, if the need ever surfaces. It can be used to fabricate unique objects or replacement pieces where the original parts are no longer produced or have worn down or become faulty. This will ultimately benefit tool maintenance but at a fraction of the potential cost.

Alucast turn to additive manufacturing for sand moulds, cores and patterns

Alucast is another member taking the opportunity to test the additive manufacturing waters by consulting with fellow member, Listers. Alucast is looking to find an alternative to making sand moulds, cores and patterns and is now working closely with Listers on making that happen.

Casting is one of the oldest manufacturing methods and it wouldn’t be unusual for casting foundries to consider additive manufacturing as a disruptive competitor but for Alucast, it’s another technique to leverage.

Additive manufacturing and member collaboration is offering the Group considerable added value

For Alucast, it isn’t all that different to Listers and Brandauer’s use of the technique. It’s a hybrid approach to manufacturing whereby additive manufacturing is being used to create the fixtures, jigs, and/or tools that are then used to manufacture parts by conventional means. i.e. sand moulds, cores and patterns to make metal castings.

3D sand printing is one of the easiest and most risk adverse ways of integrating additive manufacturing techniques into production. The only difference to the traditional methods is that it’s a faster and cheaper way to make moulds. The casting of finished components is the same technique that’s been used for hundreds of years. For Alucast, this a wonderful blend of age-old and trusted manufacturing processes, benefiting from new and improved technologies.

Grove Design champion the flexibility afforded by additive manufacturing techniques

Common to additive manufacturing technologies is the use Computer Aided Design or CAD. Once a CAD drawing or model is produced, the equipment reads in data from the file and adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material or other material types, in a layer-upon-layer process, fabricating a 3D object. You can see how an industrial design agency like Grove would deem the application almost limitless.

Early uses of the technology focused on rapid prototyping using pre-production visualisation models, but more recently, additive manufacturing is being used to fabricate end-use products. It isn’t uncommon to see additive manufactured products in aircraft and automobiles, medical implants, or commercial products.

For Grove, the technique is becoming an everyday procedure and 3D printers used for low volume and large parts that are representative of the end manufacturing materials is commonplace. Parts can be redesigned to make them robust enough to mirror the traditional metal parts that they’re replacing and testing parts for new products are also now solely additive manufactured parts.

Additive manufacturing and member collaboration is offering the Group considerable added value
Full additive manufacturing product

Eliminating errors and reducing total costs by testing earlier and throughout the process is a significant advantage for an industrial design agency and compared to alternative traditional techniques, Grove can report improved total energy usage with less material and processing involved.

Where might it lead us?

It’s an exciting time for manufacturers who are keen to find efficiencies in tooling and driving down the associated costs, and the technique without doubt offers a huge helping hand to designers who want more flexibility and grounds for testing ideas quickly, producing low volume runs and larger components.

The unique process is offering the accessibility to create, customise, repair, and redefine current production technology. Its cost effectiveness and low risk as a new process working alongside traditional manufacturing methods to speed up production is a no-brainer, but the technology is still relatively young, and it isn’t difficult to see how it could soon be a process touching every part of day-to-day life.

A range of forward-thinking applications from multi-structure concrete to machines that can build machines are all being developed at leading institutions, and the technique is also at play to support structures for people to live and work in. Don’t be surprised to soon be reading about the process layering human tissue!

Before long, additive could quite easily become the dominant mass-manufacturing technique. Watch this space, the MAN members certainly will be.

For more stories like this, keep an eye on the blog and follow the MAN Group on LinkedIn.

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The Manufacturing Assembly Network is a collaboration of 10 sub-contract manufacturers and an engineering design agency.

Its membership includes Alucast, Barkley Plastics, Brandauer, Grove Design, James Lister & Sons, KimberMills International, Muller, Nemco, PP Control & Automation and WMG.

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