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LaEPPFo: additive manufacturing for toolmakingOptimised tools for the future of particle foam processing

In particle foam manufacturing, especially with traditional particle foam tools, design freedom has hitherto been subjected to major restrictions due to production methods. This is where the LaEPPFo research project comes in.

The requirement

The aim is to develop a lighter, faster and more efficient tool concept for particle foam processing in order to shorten cycle times and achieve significant energy savings. The ability to manufacture completely new geometries through greater design freedom plays an important role.

The solution

The research project aimed to use additive manufacturing of metals to create completely new tool concepts. In compliance with scientific and technological requirements, it was possible to build a 3D-printed mould insert. Completely new geometries can be achieved by manufacturing the particle foam tool using laser melting instead of machining. In this way, the tool inserts can be designed and optimised for strength in a simulation, significantly reducing their mass. This also considerably minimises thermal capacity. The particularly thin cavity, with a wall thickness of around 1 mm, thus allows for shorter cycle times with lower energy consumption, which is mainly determined by the heating and cooling of the tool. The nozzle elements for steaming can also be designed in a simulative manner and freely positioned, allowing for a more even steaming of the manufactured items. In the end, various steps are omitted, since the manufacturing tolerances of additive manufacturing are sufficient for the application. And reworking is completely eliminated. The manufacturing costs remain constant even with increasing complexity, and the wear resistance of the inserts is increased enormously by using stainless steel instead of aluminium. Shiny spots during component production are prevented and damage from mechanical cleaning is avoided.

The success

The newly developed tool concept is implemented from the inside out, according to the sandwich principle: shaping cavity wall, lattice structure, supporting outer wall. The concept offers completely new approaches to particle foam processing and the following advantages for the entire process chain:

  • Tool inserts and complete tools can be created directly from the CAD model without any post-processing.
  • New design options for particle foam components, because delicate components can be manufactured without any additional manufacturing-related costs.
  • Surface structures and nozzle elements can be integrated into the CAD model, increasing the efficiency of toolmaking.
  • Energy consumption and cycle times are significantly reduced, since the steam chambers are no longer necessary, and the lower tool mass allows manufacturing to be more dynamic.

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Project participants