Despite its advantages, 3D printing has struggled to break into the manufacturing mainstream. This trend has changed in recent years, with 40% of manufacturers now adding these technologies to their workflows. Similarly, 72% now agree that 3D printing will become a staple in manufacturing departments. A new hybrid cutting tool manufacturing platform from ANCA and CSIRO explains why this change is taking place.
A three-year collaboration in the making
ANCA, an Australian machine tool manufacturer, and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, first collaborated in 2019 as part of a six-month pilot project. Since then, the two have worked together to produce a hybrid of additive and subtractive manufacturing methods for cutting tools.
The next phase of the collaboration, a nine-month, $928,000 program, aims to refine production technologies in the process. Upon completion, the two organizations will create a single platform to handle the current multi-step method of manufacturing tungsten cutting tools. This equipment has to go through mold pressing, sintering, blazing and grinding, but the hybrid rig could do it all in just a few steps.
ANCA and CSIRO expect the unified process to reduce production costs and bring tungsten cutting tool production back to Australia. If it works, these advances could disrupt manufacturing processes around the world.
The need for new methods
This technology is coming at the right time in the manufacturing industry. Current multi-step processes for creating tungsten carbide cutting tools are inefficient, expensive and often wasteful.
About 20% of every dollar spent in manufacturing is wasted. It stems from many factors, but inefficient material handling practices are a huge part of it. Subtractive manufacturing can remove more material than it uses, and creating the tools needed for this machining is just as wasteful, resulting in a very inefficient cycle.
Traditional approaches to cutting tool production are also slow. Going through several stages wastes time and requires more workers, resources that are currently in short supply. These processes must change if manufacturers hope to become more economically and environmentally sustainable. Hybrid 3D printing solutions like those developed by ANCA and CSIRO could be the answer.
The hybrid advantage
The ANCA and CSIRO hybrid offering offers several advantages over traditional methods. It provides significant savings in time and personnel as it combines the formerly four-step process into a single platform. Producers of tungsten cutting tools will reduce operating expenses and high performance products will become more affordable for end users.
Integrating 3D printing into the process brings further improvements. Producing high-performance tools requires careful material calculations, leaving little margin for error. The precision of additive manufacturing can ensure manufacturers stay within those small margins, reducing defects and waste.
3D printing processes are also typically faster and less energy intensive than subtractive manufacturing, further reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Offering a hybrid platform allows companies to realize these benefits without the typically high costs of using 3D printing for the entire process.
The hybrid approach could also help manufacturers overcome common barriers to 3D printing adoption. Lack of expertise and uncertainty about quality are among the top barriers to 3D printing, with 41.3% and 33.1% of manufacturers citing them, respectively. Combining these technologies with more familiar processes can help alleviate these concerns.
A broader movement in 3D printing
This ANCA and CSIRO project is part of a larger trend in 3D printing. Star tool manufacturer SU Neher adopted 3D printing in 2021 for large cutting tools. The use of additive manufacturing for these products has allowed the company to use lighter equipment to produce larger tools, thus improving the longevity of the machines.
Similarly, cutting tool producer Kennametal produces tungsten carbide materials for 3D printers. This allows manufacturers to create parts and equipment in metal through additive manufacturing, reducing high energy and time requirements.
The need for more affordable, sustainable and faster processes will also increase as the pressures around the manufacturing industry increase. This, in turn, will encourage more companies to seek 3D printing solutions. Projects like those at ANCA and CSIRO will address this need, paving the way for a new generation in manufacturing.
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