AM SoftwareRapid Prototyping

Volume Graphics joins consortium to advance 3D printed plastic mold inserts

The consortium is led by the Kunststoff-Institut in Germany

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Industrial computed tomography (CT) analysis software developer Volume Graphics is participating in a joint project with the Kunststoff-Institut in Germany and a number of industrial players. The project will focus on rapid tooling and specifically on improving the use of additive manufacturing for the rapid prototyping of plastic mold inserts. Volume Graphics’ role in the collaborative project will leverage its knowledge of quality assurance and process optimization.

Though sometimes seen as opposing manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing is actually having an impact on more traditional tooling and molding processes. That is, additive processes are increasingly being explored and adopted to produce metal tooling (especially those with conformal cooling channels) and to prototype sample parts and plastic mold inserts.

The joint project initiated by the Kunststoff-Institut—which is actually the second for the consortium—will primarily focus on the rapid prototyping of mold inserts because of their importance in strengthening parts and encapsulating components.

Traditionally in the development phase of producing injection molded parts and inserts, there is a need to produce small-quantity prototypes using either a low-end rapid process or a more complex aluminum molding tool. In the case of the latter, the final part in the prototyping process is made using an injection molded machine.

Volume Graphics plastic mold inserts
Volume Graphics’ geometry correction tools adjust the design of mold inserts to address warpage in the 3D printing process.

With additive manufacturing, however, there is an alternative solution. Essentially, 3D printed plastic molds can be used to prototype traditional plastic parts with inserts at lower costs and faster turnaround times. Though the sample output is lower in plastic molds than aluminum ones, the former is well suited for prototyping and is significantly cheaper.

Where does Volume Graphics come in? Well, industrial CT technologies have been critical in tool and mold production, as they provide a reliable and precise method for inspecting the parts in a non-destructive way. Volume Graphics CT analysis software therefore presents a solution for unlocking a deeper understanding of CT results. For instance, the company’s software can identify flaws that would be invisible to the human eye as well as compare the final part to its digital counterpart.

“Working on this project with Kunststoff-Institut and partners is very important to us,” commented Christof Reinhart, CEO of Volume Graphics. “Because we are convinced that industrial computed tomography can advance the future of rapid tooling. We have been following the topic of additive manufacturing in general and rapid tooling in particular for some time now and are working on solutions to increase prototype volumes, speed of design and overall part-and-process quality.”

Volume Graphics’ latest software packages, VGSTUDIO MAX and VGMETROLOGY, will provide vital tools to the rapid tooling project, such as the Manufacturing Geometry Correction module. This module integrates a range of features for tool and mold making using AM and addresses part shrinkage, distortion and other dimensional deviations detected in CT data sets. In other words, the software compensates for the warpage that can occur in the 3D printing process in the design stage.

“With our Manufacturing Geometry Correction module we have laid the foundation for many new applications in tool and mold making that can take advantage of improving speed and quality developments in additive manufacturing,” added Reinhart. “This data can be of great use to tool designers, to improve both the tool design itself and the 3D-printing strategy used to manufacture it.”

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