Rapid Steel Tooling Via Solid Freeform Fabrication
With increasing part complexity and requirements for long production runs, tooling has become an expensive process that requires long lead times to manufacture. This lengthens the amount oftime from "art to part". Rapid tooling via stereolithography (SLA), filled epoxies, etc. have been stopgap measures to produce limited prototyping runs from (10 to 500 parts). This gives poor dimensional analysis and does not allow for limited production runs of 1000+ parts. The method ofproducing prototype tooling with a powdered metal process has been developed that produces tooling with a hardness greater than 35 HRC and total shrinkage less than 0.5%. This tooling process manufactures production ready tooling that will perform extended cycle runs (100,000+). Manufacturing ofthis tooling takes 1 to 2 weeks and will compare favorably with production grade steel tooling. Originals drawn in 3D CAD can be used to prototype the master that will allow for the production ofthe rapid metal tool set. process starts with a rapid prototyped model made by whatever process is desired or a machined master. For this paper a Sander's Model Maker II® rapid prototyping machine was used to fabricate the model. After the model ofthe tool set is made, a silicone rubber negative is cast around that model. After the silicone rubber model is made, a heated slurry ofmetal powders and polymers is poured into the mold to create the green tool set. The tool set is left to cool, and then removed from the silicone rubber mold. The tool set is then debound and sintered to produce a final tool set with properties approaching hardened tool steel.