Jan 29, 2016 | By Benedict
Denmark-based 3D printing specialist PLM Group has lent its expertise to plastics manufacturer Vilecon, also from Denmark, in order to optimize production of plastic components. Vilecon’s newly installed 3D printing facility has enabled the company to revive a long-abandoned project.
Although several contemporary manufacturers have been using 3D printers from the get-go, other more established firms are making more gradual transitions into the world of additive manufacturing. Vilecon, a plastics manufacturer based in Hillerød, Denmark, is one such company. Vilecon witnessed the 3D printing revolution happening worldwide, considered investing in additive technology, but wanted to first ensure that a 3D printer could really help business. Consequently, the company contacted the additive manufacturing experts at PLM Group to see just how 3D printing could be used to support Vilecon’s day-to-day operations.
After taking a good look at Vilecon, representatives from PLM Group agreed that the plastics manufacturer could use 3D printing to produce high quality, inexpensive molds for its injection molded parts. Injection molded parts offer some advantages over directly 3D printed alternatives, namely smooth and precise surface textures and a wider range of available colors. Unfortunately, producing the molding tools required for the process can be costly—when traditional production methods are employed.
”This means that many good ideas end up in the drawer and development projects are often are discarded at an early stage,” explained Andreas Vind, Support Specialist for Additive Manufacturing at PLM Group. “Furthermore, companies normally do not want to invest in an expensive metal tool for projects where only a few parts are needed.”
Luckily for Vilecon, injection molding tools can also be made with a 3D printer, using a specialized technical plastic able to withstand temperatures of up to 350 degrees Celsius. Using 3D printed tools enables manufacturers to make parts in smaller batches, without large financial investment. Specifically, ordering a traditionally made aluminum tool can cost €11-12k and can sometimes take months to produce. In comparison, a 3D printed tool can be produced in a day, for less than €500, representing a price reduction of more than 95%.
Vilecon experienced these savings first-hand, after using a 3D printer to produce a tool for an abandoned project. The plastics manufacturer had previously worked on an unusual project concerning the maintenance of Swedish churches, designing a series of small electronics boxes which would contain temperature and humidity sensors, as well as a small SIM card module. These boxes were to be installed in the churches so that their owners could monitor and therefore optimize energy consumption, but the project was shelved for several years due to the high cost of the required molding tool.
The support of PLM Group enabled Vilecon to revive the project, with the company testing a number of designs before selecting the most suitable choice. The parts have now been produced using a 3D printed tool, and churches across Sweden could soon be dramatically reducing their gas and electricity bills.
“Throughout the process we have documented all the lessons learned,” said Vind. “This goes about getting the part design ready for print, about the structure of the tool to get the success rate as high as possible, and last but not least: How to adjust the injection molding machine correctly to take into account that the mold is made from the special plastic material.”
“It is a very exciting technology,” enthused Karsten Videbæk, Development Manager at Vilecon. “During the process with PLM Group we learned a lot which convinced me that there are great future perspectives in the use of 3D printed tools in the plastics industry.”
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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