Series Production with Laser Sintering
Advanced processes and materials now make it possbile to produce plastic parts in series quickly and economically via laser sintering. This tooling-free manufacturing method minimises the risks associated with investment of capital and presents new design freedom.
Laser sintering has been known as a technique for rapid prototyping of plastic parts since the early 1990s. By refining the processing technique and materials, it is now possible to economically produce plastic parts directly via laser sintering. As a result, laser sintering is being used increasingly in production processes or to produce replacement parts, as reported by EOS GmbH, Krailling, in the May issue of the magazine Kunststoffe.
As an example, high-quality series production of telephone handset holders via laser sintering is mentioned. The series involved 250 holders for use in public phone booths. Using aluminium-filled PA 12, it was possble to produce the above quantity in two days via laser sintering – this would not have been possible if a mould had been required. Each individual holder met the requirements for appearance, surface quality, stiffness, strength and dimensional tolerances.
By eliminating the mould, the risk associated with investment of capital can be minimised significantly, since it is difficult to estimate mould costs beforehand. In contrast, the costs for laser sintering can be calculated very accurately from the CAD data. Thus, the laser sintering calculation involves considerably less risk. If it turns out later that the actual quantity produced is smaller than initially planned, laser sintering has a definite advantage: none of the fixed costs associated with a mould must be absorbed. Moreover, design changes are possible at any time without additional cost.
In many fields of application the trend is to numerous product variations with shorter life cycles. This automatically means fewer parts per variation and, thus, shorter production runs. With intelligent use of laser sintering, it is possible and economically feasible to individualise products and consider a larger number of variations. Production can follow the trend to ever shorter product life cycles without incurring explosive costs.
This production technique also offers new design freedom, since laser sintering permits fabrication of parts with complex geometries – for instance, undercuts or cavities. In this way, functions can be integrated and individual designs realised.
The high costs associated with administration and storage of replacement parts and their moulds could soon be a thing of the past, according to the article, since with laser sintering it will be possible in the future to produce exactly the number of replacement parts needed. The companies that recognise these opportunities will be in a position to increase their flexibility, efficiency and ability to innovate.