May 6, 2016 | By Kira

Leading additive manufacturing R&D facility Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has partnered with Boeing and seven industrial partners to 3D print and test the first 100% digitally manufactured tools in an industrial autoclave setting. The results demonstrate the feasibility of using high-quality 3D printed parts as a low-cost alternative in the tooling industry.

ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) 3D printed four thermoplastic molds made from two new specially developed, high-temperature materials. The molds were then inserted into Boeing’s autoclave, a high-heat pressure chamber that is primarily used to cure aerospace-grade composite parts. Despite being subjected to temperatures as high as 350°F and pressures of 90psi, the 3D printed thermoplastic parts survived. Post-autoclave laser scans of the tool dimensions revealed surface deformation was less than 0.002 inches.

3D printed thermoplastic mold

“This was the first successful demonstration of 100 percent digitally manufactured tools in an industrial autoclave,” confirmed ORNL researcher Vlastimil Kunc.

What is particularly significant about these thermoplastic molds, which measure roughly 18 x 18 x 6.5”, is that they were 3D printed in just one hour and machined in four—traditionally, lead time for these parts could be as much as 14 weeks.

Results from laser scanner show deformation less than 0.002" after 350F, 90psi cycle

Example of 1 of the 3D printed molds made from high temperature thermoplastic materials.

This demonstrates the viability of using additively manufactured parts in the tooling industry to significantly reduce manufacturing costs and energy requirements by accelerating production times.

Indeed, the project’s entire timeline—including developing of the new materials, manufacturing the tools, and finally testing in the autoclave—was remarkably fast.

The initial collaboration between ORNL’s MDF, Boeing, and seven other industry partners began in November 2015. At this time, six new 3D printing materials were successfully tested on the BAAM large-format 3D printer, which was developed in conjunction with ORNL and Cincinnati Incorporated.

In March 2016, two of those six materials were chosen for 3D printing the four high-temperature tools. Of these,  two were machined and uncoated, while the other two were “coated and unmanned using experimental coating systems” developed by a Knoxville-based company. As mentioned above, the total manufacturing time for each part was just five hours including 3D printing and machining, with no touch labor involved.

Finally, in April 2016, the 3D printed molds were taken to Boeing’s St. Louis testing facility. The successful testing resulted in high quality composite parts that can be used in primary aircraft structures. Furthermore, the tools can be re-used to produce part replicates—resulting in further time and energy savings.

In addition to the thermoplastic 3D printed tools, ORNL has therefore been developing several other additive manufacturing-related processes and technologies.

One of their key areas of focus is Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) and Electron Beam Melting (EMB), whereby metal powders or wires are melted and then built-up, layer-by-layer, into complex and high-quality 3D objects. In contrast to subtractive metal manufacturing, metal 3D printing increases material utilization and minimizes scrap, resulting in all-around energy and waste efficiency.

ORNL’s 3D printing research has also extended into the realm of Polymer Additive Manufacturing (PAM), which allows for complex, lightweight, and low-cost components to be built for a range of industries, from automotive and aerospace, to rapid tooling.

And of course, ORNL took a lead role in designing and creating a 3D printed house and car capable of producing and sharing clean energy.

Beyond 3D printing, ORNL is also involved in several other research initiatives centered on novel materials and energy efficiency. These include hard carbon materials recycled from old tires that could be used in sodium-ion batteries, and accident-tolerant nuclear fuels made from silicon carbide-based materials.

 

 

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thunderhunter wrote at 9/14/2016 4:34:23 PM:

it just seems to me that the surface of the mold is cnc milled?

Ross wrote at 5/10/2016 3:01:18 PM:

This is far from the first application of additive manufacturing in composite tooling.



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