Could Additive Manufacturing Technologies for Moldmaking Make EDM Obsolete?

As the machinery and materials advance, some moldmaking companies at the forefront of additive manufacturing believe it could reduce or eliminate the need for some more traditional technologies, like EDM and gundrilling.

In a series of presentations at Amerimold 2017, leaders in the application of additive manufacturing technologies for moldmaking discussed how the latest machines and materials available have them rethinking more standard subtractive technologies, including EDM for fine details and even gun drilling for cooling channels.

Jeffrey Christian, CEO of Phoenix DeVentures, Morgan Hill, Calif., discussed how 10 months ago his company installed a Sodick OPM system, which combines metal laser sintering and high-speed machining. One goal after adding the machine: “to eliminate, if possible, EDM in moldmaking,” Christian said. Ultimately, he thinks he can cut it by 80%, and he has already reduced it by 65-70%; enough so that he recently sold one of his sinker EDMs, as its workload continued to drop.

Pat Zaffino, managing director of Conformal Cooling Solutions, Windsor, Ont., discussed how his technology, with nine North American patents, uses a 10-axis robot with welder to deposit 3.5 lb/hr of steel on mold cavities and built up conformal cooling channels with a “scalloped” interior surface that promotes turbulent flow of coolant through the channel.

Applied already by automotive molders for large parts, like bumper fascia, this technology puts the cooling where it’s needed while eliminating traditional gun-drilled cooling channels. Zaffino believes the technology could cut gun drilling by 75% while also eliminating the need for baffles or bubble systems.

Scott Young, engineering manager Bastech Inc., Dayton, Oh., discussed how his company began life as a moldmaker before becoming a rapid manufacturer. Its initial entrée into additive manufacturing of metals came back in 2000, but he noted that the technology wasn’t quite there yet. Today it is and his company is rethinking how it does things, including eliminating EDM work where possible.  

Young says for Bastech the approach is “requirement based design.” In this model, Bastech accounts for all the functionalities the mold will have to have while leaving space for conformal cooling.

Old School Moldmaking
Christian declared that in his view, “old school moldmaking has become a thing of the past,” and he challenged the audience to experiment with the new additive technologies, starting with the more affordable 3D-printing desktop models, and reorient how they approach mold design and fabrication.

“I’d recommend you buy that $300 machine and start playing with it,” Christian said. “When you print parts, it changes the way you design. Learn from it and see what you can do.”

Bastech’s Young echoed that sentiment, and the evolution in thinking that’s to come. “We know how to build things subtractively,” Young said. “We need to learn how to build them additively.” 

Jeffrey Christian, CEO of Phoenix DeVentures, addresses Amerimold 2017 in Chicago.

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