Jan 12, 2016 | By Benedict

Czech Republic-based Innomia, a Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) specialist, has been using EOS additive manufacturing technology to help companies in the automobile supply chain to produce high quality components. A recent tool insert cooling system developed by the company, made using additive manufacturing techniques, has resulted in a 17% increase in productivity for Magna, a supplier to Škoda.

Innomia has developed a range of production processes for injection-moulded plastic parts, many of which use 3D printed metal moulds for unparalleled detail and precision. Using DMLS to produce these moulds allows the company to create parts with virtually any external and internal shape—shapes which could not be formed using traditional manufacturing methods.

Innomia has been working closely with automobile component supplier Magna, which supplies parts to Škoda, a major automobile manufacturer. A recent project involved manufacturing a central front armrest component for the Czech car brand, with a focus on optimizing the cooling of the mould. Cooling is extremely important in this area of production, since uniform dissipation of heat throughout the part helps to minimize distortion and improve overall quality of the component. Temperature control also helps to increase efficiency: If the heat is removed quickly, the component can be ejected sooner and its successor put in place faster.

The previous version of the tool insert in question was made from beryllium-copper alloy, an extremely conductive metal. This component could only be cooled from one side, giving an uneven temperature distribution, which in turn produced distortion and low component quality. For this version of the insert, the cooling water had to be at 16°C to absorb the large amount of thermal energy. The 120°C temperature differential between the water and the mould caused increased humidity, which then caused corrosion. Intensive and expensive cleaning of the mould was required every one to two weeks to remove the rust.

Seeing these problems Magna was facing, Innomia developed a new tool insert cooling system. The company used its additive manufacturing expertise to create conformal cooling channels within the insert, a feature that would have been impossible to produce using any other manufacturing technique. Innomia used the EOSINT M 270 system from EOS, opting for Maraging Steel 1.2709 powder. The diameter of the precisely 3D printed cooling channels was just 3mm—demonstrating the precision afforded by DMLS additive manufacturing techniques. With the new cooling system in place, the company was able to increase component hardness to over 50 HRc.

“The DMLS process enabled us to manufacture an extremely durable component, while at the same time successfully retain the proven advantages of AM in terms of design flexibility,” said Luboš Rozkošný, CEO at Innomia. “Thanks to the conformal cooling channels integrated into the component with optimum precision, we have inexpensively resolved the main challenge of the production process.”

The refined component now only requires water temperatures of 60°C for sufficient cooling. The insert surface temperature does not surpass 90°C and the minimized temperature differential has reduced energy consumption and all but cleared up the corrosion problems. Maintenance is now only necessary every five to six weeks. The production cycle is now also 17% faster than it was before the additively manufactured component was introduced. After 370,000 cycles, the company has saved around 20,000 euros.

“There is stiff competition in the European automobile industry,” explained Pavel Strnadek, head of tool maintenance at Magna. “That is why it is very important for us to be able to produce components to the highest quality standards at the lowest price. The issue of injection mould cooling was something that we have been trying to deal with for a long time. We knew how we wanted improved products to look, but realizing it was just not possible using conventional manufacturing methods. Additive manufacturing has allowed us to make the breakthrough and we are very happy with the results at every level. Maintenance, quality of the end product, costs, heat dissipation–it has been the perfect project.”

The project undertaken by Innomia and Magna shows how additive manufacturing can be used at all levels of automobile production. Whilst many car manufacturers are showcasing 3D printed steering wheels, 3D printed seats and such like, small steps such as the introduction of DMLS-produced cooling systems are proving to be equally significant moments in the additive manufacturing revolution.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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