To create molds for electrical devices, the manufacturer previously deployed a pressing process, in which custom module hopper funnels had to be made for each individual project. However, by 3D printing them instead, the company has now managed to automate its mold production workflow, while reducing associated costs and time.
“Having adopted 3D printing technology, we are now able to complete design and production in one day,” said Weijie Wang, the company’s electronics manager. “Orders from our customers are increasing more and more and currently the capacity is below the needs. We plan to further update our capacity and increase 3D printing intake. »
Encounter molding problems
Essentially, compression molding is a commonly used method of creating parts that involves introducing a preheated polymer into an open, heated mold cavity. The mold is then closed and a hydraulic hot press is used to force the inserted material into the shape of a desired product, thereby ensuring that the plastic fills the volume until cured.
In the case of the Flashforge customer, he currently uses a compression molding system consisting of two aluminum plates to accomplish this task, one playing a closed role and the other equipped with module hoppers. The unit works by feeding these plates into a machine capable of weighing the material in each hopper, before pulling the open aluminum plates underneath, allowing the plastic to flow into a mold cavity.
While this process allows the company to create molds as desired, it previously discovered that their irregular shapes meant that each hopper had to be fitted with matching funnels, to ensure precise material feed. As a result, the customer would have needed dozens, if not hundreds, of molds of different shapes for each product, and creating them turned out to be a manual, time-consuming and expensive process.
According to Flashforge, the weight of the resulting parts also made them costly to store and transport for its client, while the nature of their manufacturing process made damaged molds difficult to repair in post-processing.
Optimization based on 3D printing
To circumvent its mold production limitations, the manufacturer has now adopted four Creator 4 systems. These machines operate around the clock, automatically producing funnels based on CAD files, in a way that requires no manual input. In fact, the firm claims that the only employee it has today to equip is a module designer.
Digitizing their designs also allowed the client to ensure that the products meet end-use requirements, checking their consistency with 0.2mm accuracy, and switching to 3D modeling would have reduced 50% his time spent in this area.
Likewise, the switch to 3D printing has allowed the manufacturer to improve the longevity of its mold hoppers. These parts are usually exposed to flows of powdery, grainy or fibrous materials, so they can suffer from abrasion during use. However, the adoption of the Creator 4 allowed the customer to start creating hoppers from high strength plastics including ABS, nylon, polycarbonate and composites.
Overall, adopting four Creator 4s at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000 would have allowed the company to increase its capacity by 30 to 40 parts per day. It has also allowed the company to reduce its labor costs, which has saved it more than $43,000 per year, and it estimates that it can increase its yield by 35% year over year for the same cost.
Flashforge 3D Printing Portfolio
Over the past eleven years, Flashforge has steadily grown, establishing its distributor FlashForge USA in 2013, before creating a portfolio of systems with diverse feature sets designed to meet different user needs. With the Adventurer 3 and Adventurer 4, the company initially targeted the entry-level market, but has since released the more capable dual-extrusion Creator Max 2 and Creator Pro 2.
Flashforge has also increasingly sought to build machines that meet the needs of professional users, introducing the high-end Creator 3 and Creator 3 Pro, as well as its flagship system: the Creator 4. Featuring an IIDEX configuration ( Interchangeable Independent Dual Extruder System) and a large build volume of 400 x 350 x 500mm, the machine is now the most capable of its offering.
Available with three different extruder sets, the system itself comes in two versions: the 4-A and 4-S, which can be customized to meet specific applications. While the 4-A comes with two Extruder-HT printheads, designed specifically to process engineering grade ABS, PLA and PETG, the 4-S comes with two Extruder-HT printheads. HS.
Compared to the 4-A’s HT extruders, the 4-S’s HS printheads are capable of depositing materials at a higher temperature of 360℃, making them compatible with composites such as PACF and PPS. For those looking to use durable yet flexible materials, such as TPU85A, TPE, TPB, and TPC, both models can also be fitted with Flashforge’s F-extruder, giving Creator 4 users three options. separate configurations.
Since its launch, Flashforge says Creator 4’s 3D printing applications have begun to trickle out from the hobbyist, education, and prosumer markets into areas such as healthcare, consumer goods, and even furniture. The company also continues to support its flagship machine with ancillary products such as its first filament drying station, a unit designed to ensure that users’ materials are not damaged by humidity.
If makers have professional 3D printing needs or are planning to adopt an industrial 3D printer into their business, they can discover the capabilities of Flashforge Creator 4 now via the company’s shop page, where more use cases can be found and sample prints ordered.
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Featured image shows Flashforge Creator 4. Photo via Flashforge.