If you’ve picked up your toolbox recently, chances are it was quite an effort. Overflowing with conventionally manufactured chromium-vanadium alloy items such as wrench sets, your collection of screwdrivers and a seemingly endless selection of socket components, it’s no surprise it weighs a ton! With the advent of, and increasing ease of access to, 3D printing, now you can save your shoulder – suprisingly strong and durable 3D printed tools can easily replace their steel counterparts.
3D printed tools can be made as you need them
Metal alloys are inarguably very strong, but for many jobs, there’s really only so much an item needs to withstand. Your choice of tool depends significantly on the pressure required and the structure of the design relative to the demands of the task. And while every material has a limit, the rise of 3D printing for any manner of application, is challenging these limits through effective design.
3D printed tools are cheap, easy to customize, easily replaceable, and non-conductive. A simple search will bring up most common tools, all of which can be resized with a 3D modeling program to fit your needs.
3D printing creates parts by building up objects one layer at a time. Infill, print speed, layer thickness, shape and widths all affect the lifespan and grade of wear resistance.
Keep in mind, the materials used aren’t simply the plastic filament you may associate with 3D printing. The Markforged printers, which we have in the MIDAS Fab Lab, offer a single-step process that produces parts and tools with a custom plastic-carbon fibre composite, capable of making parts that are 20 times stronger and 10 times stiffer than standard ABS plastic.
The company claims that its 3D material can replace machined aluminum in industrial applications. The key is Markforged thermoplastic fiber filament, which incorporates a “strand of continuous fiberglass” into the carbon fiber for added strength.
Given the increasing ease with which industrial grade tools can be made, NASA has been making headlines with their own 3D printing projects. Robert Hillan’s multipurpose precision maintenance tool contains a variety of wrenches, wire gauge, and stripper, as well as a way to utilize drill bits. Part of the “on demand” focus of the testing, NASA also successfully 3D printed a working ratchet wrench.
As NASA understands and proves with each production, one of the main advantages of additive manufacture is the speed at which parts can be produced compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Complex designs can be uploaded from a CAD model and printed in a few hours. The advantage of this is the rapid verification and ongoing, iterative development of design ideas.
Printing a tool or part with a printer such as that of Markforged can be 50 times faster than carving it out of aluminum and 20 times cheaper as there’s no wasted material. For example, a small bike valve wrench takes about 10 minutes to print.
One of the biggest concerns for a product designer is how to manufacture a part as efficiently as possible. Most parts require a large number of manufacturing steps to be produce by traditional technologies. The order these steps occur affects the quality and manufacturability of the design.
Consider a custom steel bracket that is made via traditional manufacturing methods:
As with additive manufacturing, the process begins with a CAD model. Once the design is finalized, fabrication begins with first cutting the steel profiles to size. The profiles are then clamped into position and welded one at a time to form the bracket. Sometimes a custom jig will need to be made up to ensure all components are correctly aligned. The welds are then polished to give a good surface finish. Next holes are drilled so the bracket can be mounted on the wall. Finally, the bracket is sandblasted, primed and painted to improve its appearance.
Conversely, additive manufacturing machines complete a build in one step, with no interaction from the machine operator during the build phase. As soon as the CAD design is finalized, it can be uploaded to the machine and printed in one step in only a couple of hours.
The ability to produce a part in one step greatly reduces the dependence on different manufacturing processes (machining, welding, painting) and gives the designer greater control over the final product.
The advantages to 3D printing anything, including tools, are making their way into the public consciousness, particularly as access becomes more readily available. Fabrication labs like ours at MIDAS, where the equipment and training are made available to both corporate and public users, increase the ease with which tools, parts or just about anything else can be easily prototyped and produced for a fraction of the cost of conventional means.
If you’re interested in learning more about the possibilities here at MIDAS, please contact us. If you’d like to see the valuable training we have available to take advantage of our state-of-the-art facilities, check out our course calendar.
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