New 3D Printing Process May Boost Composite Moldmaking

As carbon composite molding moves closer to mainstream production, a new toolmaking technology is emerging that could accelerate its adoption.

The Edison Welding Institute of Columbus, Ohio, has teamed with Solidica of Ann Arbor, Mich., to commercialize a technology called ultrasonic additive manufacturing (or just UAM) through a company called Fabrisonic. Parts can be made directly from CAD models by joining foils of metals together through sonic welding. Sound waves merge very thin layers (0.006-inch) of 1-inch wide metal strips. It has several advantages over other metal additive manufacturing processes, namely selective laser sintering in which tiny beads of metal are fused with lasers.

Most relevantly for composite production, the fabrication bed is six feet by six feet on the x-y axis compared to something like 13 inches by 15 inches for a typical SLS machine. The UAM process also alloys different metals such as copper to be built into the mold in specific locations to enhance cooling. Unlike a fusion process, UAM does not have to worry about brittle inter-metallics forming during the combination of two or more metals.  The UAM process also allows production of built-in conformal cooling channels through use of a supplementary subtractive process.

The low temperature process allows embedding of wires, fibers, and sensors into a metallic substrate. Pretty cool. The Ohio State University College of Engineering has been the first to adopt the SonicLayer 4000 for use in its research on embedded smart materials. The SonicLayer 4000 has a 3-axis CNC mill with bed dimensions of 40 inches by 24 inches and a 25HP 8000 RPM spindle for machining any metal part. 

A new model with a fourth axis debuted at the recent Euromold in Germany, allowing metal to be clad to a pipe or a tapered cylinder.  


About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News

Carbon Composites, Injection Molding, Resin Transfer Molding

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