Metal-cutting machining Cutting tools: 3D printing creates new opportunities
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, allows Seco Tools to create products that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to manufacture. The advantages include shorter lead times, improved tool life and increased sustainability.
The development and manufacture of prototypes for metal-cutting machining by means of additive manufacturing (AM) is becoming increasingly commonplace in the operations of Seco Tools. One of the main strengths of this manufacturing method is the possibility of making specialised customer-specific tools and solutions that are difficult to achieve through conventional manufacturing. Above all, AM technology will come into its own when producing tools that must be designed in a special way. This may involve complex geometries or other customizations to customer-specific needs.
Examples of such customisations include making the tools lighter, which improves the vibration-dampening properties, or provide them with better cooling possibilities. “By directing the coolant to hit the cutting edge at just the right place, we can significantly extend the tool’s useful life. With AM technology, coolant can be guided to locations that would otherwise have been impossible,” explains Ingemar Bite, R&D Specialist at Seco Tools, who also believes that AM technology is helping to shorten lead times. “AM allows for us to produce geometries that require less manufacturing steps, which often results in shorter lead times and thereby, faster deliveries.”
AM technology will also open up the possibility of repairing broken tools in the future, by removing dysfunctional components and printing them anew. This could, for example, involve tool components or the reuse of different types of machine-side connections. This is advantageous in terms of the environment and sustainability. Another advantage with AM technology, compared with traditional manufacturing in this context, is that there is less waste of materials. Overall, not as much material is used for AM manufacturing and any leftover powder can be reused.
Additive manufacturing could thus be a time-efficient and cost-efficient method for one-of-a-kind production and prototype development. However, it could also work excellent for large-scale manufacture of standard products. Seco Tools is already manufacturing cooling clamps for its Jetstream tools through 3D printing. “The cooling clamps have a complex form with curved cooling channels and are thus well-suited to this type of manufacture,” says Ingemar Bite.
Different methods can be used for additive manufacturing; the one that Seco Tools uses is called SLM (Selective Laser Melting). Here, lasers and a bed of metal powder are used to construct the products. In an SLM machine, a roughly 20–60 µm layer of powder is spread, and then processed by a laser. This process is repeated, layer by layer. Once all the layers are in place, the excess powder is removed and the product goes into post-processing for its final form.