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Agile Tooling: Low-Cost Die Sets

Agile tooling is the design and fabrication of manufacturing-related tools; such as, dies, molds, patterns, jigs, and fixtures in a configuration that aims to maximize the tools' performance, minimize manufacturing time and cost, and avoid delay during pre-production runs. Our team has developed a concept that puts a new twist on hybrid dies, contrasting traditional matching die sets.

The Process

The lower die would be manufactured using RENboard, Additive Manufacturing Acrylic, Aluminum, Kirksite, or a similar low-cost, easy-to-machine print material.  The upper die would be a modular design commensurate with metallic "Legos". The modular die pieces could be quickly assembled and/or rebuilt to repair damage during production. The bottom or last "Lego" in column would house high-energy electromagnetic coils that would fire independently in a predetermined sequence, emulating progressive dies used in production.

Electromagnetic forming is traditionally used for low quality precision applications due to the approach that they need fitted in interchangable modules. Research shows that electromagnetic coils can be used to coin stamped metal parts to mitigate spring back. We successfully used 3D-printed, polymeric dies for conventional stamping and hydrofoaming operations. In doing so, we also found that 3D-printed plastic materials perform well in shearing operations. 


graphic of modular die sets

Modular pieces of "Lego" never make contact with the sheet metal. The lower die is made using a softer material. This assembly benefits industrial manufacturers, like automotives and white goods, by producing pre-production runs and smaller quantity production runs using sheet metal that is pre-painted. The painting operation is completely eliminated, yielding a significant savings in Volitile Organic Compound (VOC) collection and incineration expenses.


In support of these recent findings, CDME is launching a multisponsor, multi-industry project focused on evaluating and documenting the performance of 3D-printed materials for use in mold and die applications. Contact Charlie Young if you are interested in sponsoring the agile tooling die program.