Additive manufacturing: Ideas cubed

Our experts are highly sought-after when it comes to individual tool solutions for series production. Here, they explain why hybrid tools play such an important role.

Renishaw RenAM500Q at the Besigheim site

As experts in additive manufacturing tools, we at CERATIZIT prioritise the benefit of our customers over everything else. You can seek and find special tools for your series production with us: the pioneers for ambitious hard material solutions in the fields of machining and wear protection.

Our expert in the automotive field, Andy Staiger, sums it up: “We are an internationally sought-after solution provider when it comes to increasing the number of cutting edges while reducing cycle times and costs.” The tool machines available are the key to achieving this: High-performance tools require high-performance conditions. 

HPC PCD face milling cutter with 3D-printed attachment ring.

The cutting edges of the PCD face milling cutter are sharpened using a laser beam.

Use additive technology in an economically sensible way

Both the rotating mass and the tilting moment on the spindle can be a challenge, particularly when machining large diameters (>200 mm). “Optimal design in the additive manufacturing process combines optimal stability of the cutting edge with minimal material build-up. This allows us to achieve a low tool system weight,” explains Staiger. “For us and for our customers, it’s essential to use this technology economically and sensibly.” This is why we often use what we call hybrid tools. From a technological point of view, these are highly advantageous for machining since the only part of the tool that comes out of the 3D printer is that which is of use to our customers. 

From development to printing to the complete product ready for series production: Watch the video to see how our PCD face milling cutter is produced. 

3D printing enables completely new geometries

3D printing produces geometries in manufacturing that are hardly feasible using conventional production methods. Our Head of Research and Development for Hard Metal Tools, Dr Reinhard Durst, explains: “Being able to freely design tool geometries inside and outside leads to a huge increase in the performance and productivity of the tools. This creates considerable added value for our customers.” At our Besigheim site, we have already specialised in individual tool solutions for series production, for which additive manufacturing is a perfect fit. 

At the Besigheim site, tools are developed based on customer requirements and checked for feasibility.

The advantages are obvious: The simpler implementation of lightweight structures and the faster production of custom components are ideal for the concept of modular tools. In principle, however, we always follow the same premise: Additive manufacturing is only employed when the printed tool offers real added value for the customer.

When exactly is 3D printing the right choice for tools?

3D printing inherently provides creative engineers with much more design freedom. After all,

  • additive manufacturing is not restricted by the traditional rules of production technology.

Innovative tool solutions are made possible due to this new design freedom. New tool dimensions lead to greater benefits. More specifically:

  • a greater number of cutting edges and HPC-optimised cutting edge geometry make tools more productive and enable a feed rate that is up to 50 percent higher.
  • optimised coolant hole structure: each cutting edge is supplied by a separate coolant hole.
An optimised arrangement of the cutting edges enables a greater number of cutting edges and thus significantly higher feed rates.
At CERATIZIT, we are totally blown away by the quality of the printed tools. They are fully on a par with conventionally manufactured tools – in terms of tool life, for example.
Andy Staiger, Head of Automotive Division

It’s when we look at performance, or more specifically cutting speed and potential feed rate, that the benefits of tools produced using additive manufacturing really come to the fore. Their much greater capability is often aided by an optimised flow of coolant directly to the cutting edge. This is achieved by being able to position the coolant holes more or less anywhere in the tool. This can have a positive impact on chip removal as well as tool life. 

Further benefits of our additive manufacturing include:

  • Quicker delivery times in comparison to conventional methods, as even special tools can be delivered rapidly
  • Reduction of the component weight

Increased feed rate with high-end screw-in cutter

The example of the PCD boring tool shows the inserts in the chip flutes produced via additive manufacturing. Through these, the chips are safely transported out of the hole, assisted by a curved coolant hole guide. Users will benefit from the reduced amount of cleaning work after machining: they’ll end up with chip-free components. 

PCD screw-in cutter

One of the first market-ready projects at CERATIZIT featured a PCD screw-in cutter whose additive-manufactured base body was equipped with PCD cutting edges and screwed onto a tool holder. The additive process enabled a modified arrangement of the cutting edges, considerably larger axis angles and thus significantly more PCD cutting edges to be accommodated on the tool. For example, the number of grooves and cutting edges on a 32 mm threaded adapter increased from six to ten. The tool also increased the feed rate by the same ratio.

Tool professionals also see a market for unspectacular solutions

Alongside high-end tool solutions such as these, we also employ additive manufacturing for somewhat less spectacular applications. For example, 3D-printing is used to produce boring tools with PCD cutting edges. “We normally mill the pockets for the PCD cutting edges into a steel base body”, explains Staiger. The uncoated PCD is soldered in and later machined precisely using a laser. However, the reprocessing of the tools would not be entirely free from problems, since the soldered PCD cutting edges would have to be thermally removed again. Due to the heat input into the base body, however, the service life of the tools is reduced.

Boring tools with PCD cutting edges

The cartridges for the PCD cutting edges are now produced on a 3D-printer and can be screwed to the base body. This solution enables the tools to be reprocessed much more simply and quickly, without having any impact at all on the base body. The 3D-printed solution also allows the coolant supply to be positioned in such a way that the chips are efficiently flushed from the hole.

Design: farewell to conventional methods

When it comes to manufacturing cutting tools via 3D printing, additive design is a key concept. When customers decide to go for a 3D-printed tool, the added value is already pre-programmed. It’s then a matter of mentally breaking away from conventional production methods and proven design approaches, and prioritising the requirements for the tool”, says our development expert Karl-Heinz Edelmann, describing his experience. “Increasing customer benefits and profitability is an absolute must. We often also face customer requirements that drive us as designers. We work as a team to figure out what’s technically feasible to ensure we always find satisfactory compromises.” 

The actual design process only begins once the energy flow for a new cutting tool has been defined. It is also essential to plan designs additively and not subtractively – i.e. adding rather than removing. “At the start, you’ll often catch yourself mentally milling something, drilling a hole or machining something on the lathe”, admits Edelmann. 

The result is consistently positive

In a nutshell, tools that are perfectly manufactured with additive processes do not waste material resources of any kind, have a largely even mass distribution, are self-supporting and have few functional surfaces for reworking after printing. 

How does lightweight design benefit from additive manufacturing?

3D printing is an essential manufacturing method for lightweight design, considered to be a driving factor towards greater sustainability. Although additive manufacturing has been used in prototyping for over 20 years, its use in industrial manufacturing has only become popular in recent years. Additive manufacturing enables tool-free production, as products are created directly from 3D CAD files by layering material:

In a thin bed of metal powder, a high-performance ytterbium fibre laser is used to selectively melt – and solidify through cooling – the areas that will form the component. The process is repeated with new layers of metal powder until the part is finished. Our tool experts use a RenAM 500Q from Renishaw for this. The RenAM 500Q is equipped with four powerful 500 watt lasers. The machine also features an optical system specially developed by Renishaw. The laser beams are guided via four separate channels into the optical system and directed onto the assembly platform. All four laser beams can reach any point on the assembly platform. This enables greater freedom in the melting strategy.
Additively manufactured tools are currently in particularly high demand in the automotive and aerospace technology sectors. In these fields, the need for light metal machining and higher component requirements is particularly frequent. In principle, however, customers from all sectors can benefit wherever lightweight design plays an important role.