Part Maker Sees Big Gains in Printing Metal Fixtures, Tools and PrototypesMay 20, 2020
|Alpha Precision Group (APG) was able to design and 3D print this tool, a custom-made ratchet screwdriver that automatically tightens and loosens part fixtures used to hold parts, in only a few days from 17-4 PH stainless steel. APG officials note 93-percent cost savings and 87-percent time savings as compared to traditional manufacturing.|
|This coining fixture requires custom geometry for each application and superior wear resistance to withstand repeated use cycles. APG printed the inhouse-designed fixture from 17-4 stainless steel and begin employing it in only three days.|
|A fixture used to push a thread-checking tool into a part, was 3D printed from 17-4 PH stainless steel. In addition to significant time savings for manufacture, APG printed the fixture for less than $100, whereas traditional machining would result in a $600 price tag.|
Speed is key to APG winning and keeping jobs. 3D printing provides a big help here: APG engineers can significantly speed the design and manufacture of jigs, fixtures and tooling―printing parts in only days and deploying them on the manufacturing floor in less than a week. In addition, metal 3D printing via the Studio System from Desktop Metal, Inc.offers the company far more design freedom than conventional manufacturing, according to APG officials.
This enables significant lightweighting of parts, in some cases by as much as 30 percent, resulting in less wear-and-tear on machinery and less downtime on the manufacturing floor. In addition, the technology has opened the door to designing improved workflows, particularly related to machining, which, otherwise, may be too time- and labor-intensive to pursue. A main target for those improvements: post-processing of parts in CNC machines.
And, to help earn new business, APG employs the Studio System to create prototype parts quickly for testing and design iteration. In addition, 3D printing helps APG support existing customers through production of small numbers of replacement or aftermarket parts.
The Studio System employs Desktop Metal’s Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) technology, where rods of metal powder and binders are heated and extruded to shape a part. This eliminates the loose powders and lasers employed in laser powder bed fusion, a process that necessitates a high initial investment. These factors swayed APG in its purchase decision, according to APG officials, who note that the Studio System was installed in January 2019. The BMD technology enables a range of material printing, including H13 tool steel, 4140 steel, 316L stainless steel and 17-4 PH stainless steel.
When exploring the use of metal 3D printing, APG tested parts printed on the Studio System for their dimensional tolerances and metallurgical properties. Overall, APG engineers found that printed parts had tolerances comparable to traditionally manufactured parts. To evaluate material properties, APG engineers printed a number of sample parts, then halved them for examination of metal density and grain structure. Tests revealed that the printed metals showed hardness levels, density and grain structure in line with parts created via MIM.
“The Studio System is enabling us to constantly be asking ourselves how can we do this better, resulting in significant time and cost savings,” says Nate Higgins, APG business unit manager.