Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing, is allowing Seco Tools to create products that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to manufacture. The advantages include shorter lead-times, improved tool life and increased sustainability.
The development and manufacture of prototypes for metalcutting machining by means of additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly commonplace in Seco’s operations. One of the main strengths of this manufacturing method is the possibility of making specialised customer-specific tools and solutions that are difficult to achieve through conventional manufacturing.
Above all, AM technology comes into its own when producing tools that must be designed in a special way. This may involve complex geometries or other customisations to customer-specific needs.
Examples of such tailor-made solutions include making the tools lighter, which improves the vibration-dampening properties, or provides them with better cooling possibilities.
“By directing the coolant to hit the cutting edge at just the right place, we can significantly extend the tool’s useful life. With AM technology, coolant can be guided to locations that would otherwise have been impossible,” explains Ingemar Bite, R&D specialist at Seco Tools, who also believes that AM technology is helping to shorten lead-times.
“AM allows for us to produce geometries that require less manufacturing steps, which often results in shorter lead times and consequently, faster deliveries.”
AM technology will also open up the possibility of repairing broken tools in the future, by removing dysfunctional components and printing them new. This could, for example, involve tool components or the reuse of different types of machine-side connections.
This is particularly good when it comes to the environment and sustainability. Another advantage with AM technology, compared with traditional manufacturing, is that there is less material waste. Overall, little material is used for AM and any leftover powder can be reused.
Additive manufacturing is a time-efficient and cost-efficient method for one-of-a-kind production and prototype development. However, it also works excellently for large-scale manufacture of standard products. Seco Tools is already manufacturing cooling clamps for its Jetstream tools through 3D printing.
“The cooling clamps have a complex form with curved cooling channels and are thus well-suited to this type of manufacture,” says Mr Bite.
The R&D department at Seco Tools works continuously to improve the use of AM technology for the development and manufacture of new and existing products. The company is constantly looking into ways to improve its products and how to best utilise AM techniques.
“We like to collaborate with our customers on these efforts and to conduct tests together with them,” says Mr Bite, who is also of the opinion that new materials can be developed.
“The materials that are currently used in AM are no different in nature than those being used in conventional manufacturing, and the technology works well with many different metals. In the future, we will add even more and superior materials, while regularly adapting our equipment and upgrading hardware and software as needed.”
Seco Tools uses Selective Laser Melting (SLM) for its additive production. Here, lasers and a bed of metal powder are used to construct the products. In an SLM machine, a roughly 20 - 60µm layer of powder is spread, and then processed by a laser. This process is repeated, layer by layer. Once all the layers are in place, the excess powder is removed and the product goes into post-processing for its final form.