By Karen Hanna, Plastics Machinery Magazine
Just as they’re expanding capabilities for the processing of plastics, 3-D printers are also creating new possibilities for mold makers who work with metal.
Representatives of 3-D printer manufacturers said the technology offers numerous benefits to tooling makers, as well as users of the molds. Among other advantages, they said 3-D printers provide greater freedom and can reduce production turn-around times. New printers are especially suited for sophisticated markets, such as the medical and automotive industries.
Optomec Inc., Albuquerque, N.M., also offers machines with hybrid capabilities. At IMTS, it introduced its new LENS Machine Tool series, which incorporates AM technology into a conventional CNC vertical machining platform from Fryer Machine Systems Inc., Patterson, N.Y. Three standard configurations are offered; the most economical comes with a base price of around $250,000.
“This new product line complements our existing LENS systems and fills specific gaps for low-cost, additive-only and hybrid CNC inert systems,” David Ramahi, president and CEO of Optomec, said when the new machines were released.
LENS stands for Laser Engineered Net Shaping. Drawing upon technology used in Optomec’s other LENS printers, the Machine Tool series systems use powerful lasers to build structures layer by layer from powdered metals, alloys and composites. The LENS technology can be used for both component repair and tooling manufacturing.
Ken Vartanian, VP of marketing, said the systems are designed with machinists in mind, costing about half as much as other, additive-only machines.
“The subtlety here is the hybrid machine uses the same command language for both additive and subtractive operation — a language already familiar to most machinists. So learning the system becomes easy and intuitive,” he said.
The approach provides benefits throughout the supply chain, according to Vartanian. He cited the use of 3-D printing to add wear-resistant coatings to materials that have been machined using traditional methods.
We have customers today who make injection mold equipment that are using 3-D printing