A Flashforge customer has begun using a fleet of the firm’s Creator 4 3D printers to optimize the performance of its compression molding machines.
To create molds for electrical appliances, the manufacturer previously deployed a pressing process, in which custom module hopper funnels would have to be made for each individual project. However, by 3D printing them instead, the company has now managed to automate its mold production workflow, while reducing associated costs and lead times.
“Having adopted 3D printing technology, we are now able to finish design and production in a single day,” explains Weijie Wang, an Electronics Business Manager at the firm. “Our customer orders are increasingly growing and currently the capacity is lower than required. We are considering updating our capacity further and increasing the 3D printing input.”
Encountering molding issues
Essentially, compression molding is a commonly-used method of creating parts that involves feeding a preheated polymer into an open, heated mold cavity. The mold is then closed, and a hot hydraulic press is used to force the inserted material to take the shape of a desired product, in a way that ensures that the plastic fills the volume until it’s cured.
In the case of Flashforge’s customer, it currently uses a compression molding system featuring two aluminum plates to complete this task, with one playing a closed role, and the other fitted with module hoppers. The unit works by feeding these plates into a machine capable of weighing the material in each hopper, before pulling open aluminum plates below, allowing plastic to flow into a mold cavity.
While this process allows the firm to create molds as desired, it has previously found that their irregular shapes meant each hopper needed to be fitted with corresponding funnels, to ensure accurate material feeding. As a result, the client is said to have required dozens if not hundreds of differently-shaped molds for every product, and creating these has proved a manual, time and cost-intensive process.
According to Flashforge, the weight of the resulting parts also made them expensive for its customer to store and transport, while the nature of their manufacturing process made damaged molds complicated to repair in post-processing.
3D printing-driven optimization
In order to get around its mold production limitations, the manufacturer has now adopted four Creator 4 systems. These machines work around the clock, automatically churning out funnels based on CAD files, in a way that doesn’t require any manual inputs. In fact, the firm says the only employee it has to equip these days is a module designer.
Digitizing its designs has also enabled the customer to ensure that products meet end-use requirements, by controlling their consistency within a precision of 0.2mm, and switching to 3D modeling is said to have reduced its time spent in this area by 50%.
Similarly, switching to 3D printing has allowed the manufacturer to improve the longevity of its mold hoppers. These parts are usually exposed to powder, granular or fibrous material flow, hence they can suffer from abrasion during usage. However, adopting the Creator 4 has enabled the customer to start creating hoppers from high-strength plastics, including ABS, nylon, polycarbonate and composites.
Overall, adopting four Creator 4s at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000, is said to have allowed the firm to increase its capacity from 30 to 40 parts per day. This in turn, has also seen the company cut back on labor spending, saving it more than $43,000 per year, and it estimates being able to raise its yield by 35% over a year for the same cost.
Flashforge’s 3D printing portfolio
Over the last eleven years, Flashforge has steadily expanded, establishing its FlashForge USA distributor in 2013, before building out a system portfolio with diverse feature sets designed to meet varying user needs. With the Adventurer 3 and Adventurer 4, the firm initially targeted the entry-level market, but it has since gone on to launch the more capable dual-extrusion Creator Max 2 and Creator Pro 2.
Flashforge has also increasingly sought to build machines that address professional users’ needs, by introducing the higher-end Creator 3 and Creator 3 Pro, as well as its flagship system: the Creator 4. Featuring an IIDEX (Interchangeable Independent Dual Extruder System) setup and sizable 400 x 350 x 500mm build volume, the machine is now the highest-performing in its offering.
Available with three different sets of extruders, the system itself is shipped in two versions: the 4-A and 4-S, which can be customized to cater for specific applications. While the 4-A model comes with two Extruder-HT printheads, designed specifically to process engineering grade ABS, PLA and PETG, the 4-S ships with two Extruder-HS printheads.
Compared to the 4-A’s HT extruders, the 4-S’ HS printheads are capable of depositing materials at a higher temperature of 360℃, making them compatible with composites like PACF and PPS. For those seeking to use durable-but-flexible materials, such as TPU85A, TPE, TPB and TPC, both models can also be fitted with Flashforge’s F-extruder, thus giving Creator 4 users three distinct set up options.
Since launch, Flashforge says the Creator 4’s 3D printing applications have begun to spread from the hobbyist, educational and prosumer markets into areas like healthcare, consumer goods and even furniture. The company also continues to support its flagship machine with ancillary products such as its first Filament Drying Station, a unit designed to ensure that users’ materials aren’t damaged by moisture.
Should manufacturers have professional 3D printing needs or be considering the adoption of an industrial 3D printer in their business, they can check out the capabilities of the Flashforge Creator 4 now via the firm’s store page, where other use cases can be found and free sample prints ordered.
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Featured image shows the Flashforge Creator 4. Photo via Flashforge.