Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is one of the newest and most versatile manufacturing processes on the planet. It's possible to 3D print thousands of different models, parts, or basically anything you want with an ever-growing number of different materials. However, as we demonstrate in this ongoing series, there are some scenarios where this seemingly universal tool may not actually be the best tool for the job. At least not in the way you think. Even when 3D printing isn't an ideal candidate for creating the final end-use part, there are ways in which additive manufacturing technology can offset the design, testing and production of end-use parts.
In this second video of a 3-part series, we’re going to continue demonstrating the process of manufacturing the thermoformed rear wing of our TriMech 1:10 scale radio-controlled 4WD race buggy. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a high-performance RC car using advanced battery technologies, zillion to one power to weight ratios, and the use of advanced materials and manufacturing processes?
For this second part of our video series, we’re going to look at the entire process from initial concept though designing end-use tooling.
Iterative Design and Prototyping
The design process starts like any other: taking a napkin drawing and turning it into a CAD model. For this project, we're using SOLIDWORKS to take our wing design from a paper sketch to a surfaced model. The added benefit of creating the wing in SOLIDWORKS is that we can easily use the same software suite to run a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) flow simulation.
The next step is to take the CAD model to a 3D printer. We’re not going to print the end-use part, but rather some physical prototypes. This is so we can do some form and fitment checks. In this example, I found that the original design didn’t have enough clearance between the wing and the rear tires during tight turns. This is crucial and much better to know now before creating the tooling. In this workflow, making the needed changes is easy since we used SOLIDWORKS and can leverage the native ability to roll back and rework existing features.
3D Printing Production Level Tooling
Once confirmed that the design will meet our needs by virtue of testing the 3D printed prototype, we can move forward and continue 3D printing more wings as end-use parts, right?
You could, but you shouldn’t.
As we touched on in our last video, you need to consider the time and material cost afforded by the manufacturing process you choose. For this end-use part, thermoforming is a good fit since it's quick and inexpensive. We’re not going to get improved profitability from 3D printing technology in this case, so let’s change our thinking from 3D printing the part to making 3D printing the tool.
Going back to our CAD file in SOLIDWORKS, we can use the same design to make the needed tooling for the thermoform bed. With this design, instead of making a tool for a single part, we can double our output with some quick mirroring techniques.
3D printing this tool in a material that will stand up to the temperature requirements of repeated thermoforming is as simple as changing a cartridge in most printing machines and oftentimes adds negligible print time. The key is that this technique can be done in-house without the need to outsource which eliminates shipping, lead times and added costs. For this application, this is where you get improved profitability from 3D printing technology.
As we continue this series, we will finalize everything by 3D printing our tooling design and thermoforming some wings before taking them out to the track to see how they perform.