Systems that can 3D print metal parts with a selective laser sintering process are already helping create advanced injection moulds. The technology is expected to penetrate further into the sector, according to EOS.
Germany’s EOS is one of the world’s leading producers of systems for additive manufacturing with metal. It is working with a range of companies and research organisations in Europe and beyond to advance the technology and apply it to more applications. We discussed the current limits on the production process and its future with Augustin Niavas, the company’s business development manager for tooling.
ETMM: What does your company offer to the tool and die maker?
Augustin Niavas: When we talk at EOS about tooling, we talk about four applications. First is the manufacturing of inserts with the integration of the conformal cooling feature to improve the productivity of the mould and the plastic quality of the product. The second application where we expect some business this year is for the manufacturing of inserts for die casting applications. Third field of interest is the repair applications, where our technology can give back the complete functionality of the mold focusing only on the damaged area. And the fourth application area is what we have been offering for many years: rapid prototyping and rapid tooling.
ETMM: Have you noticed any recent major advancements in conformal cooling?
Niavas: Today, the market is driven by the parts or inserts manufactured by service providers. If we have a look at the distribution of the machines, 70-75% of systems are sold to service companies, which build up their business around our systems and they focus on insert design or optimisation and the simulation and improvement of the injection moulding processes. [This] is the best way to show end customers that this technology works – with all the benefits it can offer. And, they sell the inserts. I call these companies ‘tooling solution providers’. They are able to address the challenges of the OEMs or the mould makers, analyse it, and with dedicated design, decide how to optimise it.
ETMM: What is your experience with shops?
Niavas: Often times, the most challenging customers for us are the mould makers. It’s a bit of a paradox. Once the technology is established as a production technology – and is a reference technology for tooling - then most of the machines will be found at mould making shops. Today, mould makers still prefer to use an external service provider.
ETMM: What is stopping shops from purchasing your systems?
Niavas: At a first glance, the amount of the perceived costs. If you are, for example, a mould maker, and you have to sell a mould to an OEM in a global context, you can be sure you will be competing with mould makers from all over the world, in a pitch which is mostly price-driven. Even if you are a very advanced mould maker and able to deliver a solution that performs but is more expensive, you are negotiating with a buyer who obviously is not always interested in the cycle time or the product quality but is principally focusing on the mould cost. Of course, performances and quality are part of the deal, but price is still a key decision factor. In the end, the conformal cooling solution is not always proposed. We need a change in mindset: once the conformal cooling solution makes its way into the OEM’s specification process, the acceptance of the technology will increase automatically. In addition, we should not forget the shorter amortisation period of the inserts and the energy savings.
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