Aluminum tooling is hot again, according to an interesting story this month in Injection Molding Magazine by veteran writer Clare Goldsberry. Honda says that aluminum cuts costs significantly versus tool steel: 8.6% on materials and another 8% on machining. Aluminum lacks the durability of tool steel, but as Goldsberry notes, there is a trend toward shorter product cycles, opening a broader window for potential use of aluminum tooling. A trend to more automotive use of less-demanding thermoplastics in the polyolefin family opened the window even further.
One of the interesting uses I’ve seen made for aluminum tooling is at Minneapolis prototype shop Protomold which offers turnarounds as short as one day for parts made from production materials for prices starting at $1,495. At the heart of the process are tools made from advanced aluminum alloys. Protomoldcalls its system “Rapid Injection Molding”, a clever twist on the Rapid Manufacturing label being used for additive manufacturing processes. Multi-cavity tools offer a quick route to 10,000 parts.
Richard Oles, CEO at PSG Plastic Service Group in Benton Harbor, Mich., is leading an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of aluminum tools at the Production Aluminum Injection Molds & Tooling forum on Linked-In. One project manager says he is saving “tons of money” due to reduced cycle times on aluminum molds. And these are no ordinary molds. “We have built molds that are close to 10 years old now running high volume production runs,” says Todd Phillips, project manager at Franchino Mold & Engineering. ”These molds now have close to 2,000,000 shots out of them.” Aluminum is housed in steel to protect the parting line. That’s expensive, but the extra funds are more than made up on the back end.