Product and prototype: productype. The freedoms of 3D printing with the volumes of injection molding. AddiFab promises these and more.
The company was established in Denmark in 2014, and has remained generally in stealth since. I say “generally” as we’ve had some tidbits over the years. AddiFab ApS Co-Founder and CEO Lasse Staal shared some updates upon the company’s first birthday in December 2015, for example, noting:
“At AddiFab, we are creating an industrialized 3D-printing platform that allows our customers to move directly from prototype to volume production.”
The hints continued to trickle out, including the win of Scale-up Denmark’s Company of the Year Award in 2017. Toward the end of 2018, even more came out, with a white paper (pdf) explaining the company’s Freeform Injection Molding (FIM) process and a case study (pdf) of Poland-based Core3Di, “the world’s first dedicated Freeform Startup.”
Today, though, AddiFab is ready to release all the details, including a major materials collaboration.
AddiFab, with offices in Denmark (AddiFab ApS) and Silicon Valley (AddiFab Inc.), is lifting the veil. AddiFab Inc. CEO Carsten Jarfelt provided a look into the big picture.
“The short version: Injection Molding gone Additive, including its abundance of reliable, approved and loved materials,” he told me.
Jarfelt elaborated in a LinkedIn update, “In short, we will enable your hardware teams to do ‘sprints’ – we believe it is about time, that someone will do to hardware, what most have seen in software development: authentic and impacting acceleration.
We can productype any design (any!) in any material (close to any!) with super short local lead times. Ceramics, Liquid Silicon Rubber, stainless steel, PEEK… the list is a lot longer. Since we print our molds, then injection mold the real materials and then dissolve the molds overnight – you are getting a product and not a prototype, as a result. No geometric constraints. Think 3D printing, just without the hype and then add the long list of materials.”
3D printing offers complex geometries and unique design parameters that are desirable but often difficult to achieve in mass production.
Injection molding, while suitable for high-volume manufacturing, can lack in these intricacies. Combining the two brings 3D printing into use for scale production — and with the variety of materials injection molding touts. In turn, low-volume manufacturing is also now a possibility with injection molding, bringing that benefit of additive manufacturing to molding that usually requires larger runs to make financial sense.
“Injection molding – with a much richer legacy and R&D budgets dwarfing those of the AM industry – is churning out hundreds of specialized grades for every generic grade that is being converted to additive. And the materials converted to AM lose out on performance, compared with their injection-molded twins. But the race for materials is about to be thoroughly changed by AddiFab”, Staal explains in today’s release.
FIM works in a seven-step process:
Step 1 – Design the Mold
Develop a mold design based on the desired geometry, and define print parameters.
Step 2 – Print the Mold
Print the FIM mold, using the parameters defined in step 1.
Step 3 – Rinse the Mold
The mold must be thoroughly rinsed to ensure that the internal cavity has been cleaned of all non-cured resin.
Step 4 – Post-cure the Mold
Post-cure the mold to ensure that full hardness has been achieved also on internal surfaces.
Step 5 – Fill the Mold
Fill the printed mold, using conventional injection molding equipment. A mold-base with a cavity corresponding to the outer dimensions of the FIM mold provides support during injection.
Step 6 – Dissolve the Mold
Dissolve the mold using a water solution.
Step 7 – Trim and Inspect the Finished Component
Trim away inlets and outlets from the finished components, and do final inspection.
It can also be described in brief as a three-step process: print the mold, inject the mold, dissolve the mold.
Four years of R&D have gone into the process, and the company is now presenting its “deceptively simple, yet extremely versatile” platform. The full public look will be next month at RAPID + TCT, where AddiFab will be co-exhibiting with Mitsubishi.
This collaboration will be key for FIM, as the companies will continue to release new materials suited to the process. Mitsubishi Chemical has a strong history with high-performance injection moldable materials.
These high-performance materials will now be able to be injection molded in geometries that “are too complex for conventional tooling,” as AddiFab Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Jon Jessen notes. He adds, “One example of the technology usage is to support generative design on an injection molding platform.”
Among the Mitsubishi materials AddiFab has been testing are grades of Tefabloc TPE.
“Tefabloc is probably the easiest-to-mold elastomer we have ever worked with. The material parameters were extremely easy to dial in, and we were quickly able to overmold, as well as demonstrate the geometric complexity that is possible with Freeform Injection Molding,” Jessen said.
Next up will be KyronMax reinforced polymers from Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials, which are strong enough to serve as metal replacement materials for structural use. The AddiFab team notes that early results of this testing are promising with FIM.
“Additive manufacturing has enabled design freedom and many other benefits in nearly every industry segment. However, there are many challenges with the technology that create barriers to achieving the quality and properties of manufactured end use parts that are comparable with isotropic manufacturing. While Mitsubishi Chemical produces a wide range of high-performance materials that are ideal for AM today, we are also very interested to leverage our thousands of existing grades of high-performance materials with the usage of technologies such as AddiFab’s FIM,” said Jeff Gerbec, Regional Manager for the Americas.
A streamlined workflow with the batch size benefits of both (or either) 3D printing and injection molding, removing the constraints of conventional tooling and of the limited materials options in 3D printing — it seems AddiFab will be one to watch. And definitely one to visit in Detroit during RAPID + TCT.
Editor’s Note: I initially mislabeled the Mitsubishi relationship as a partnership; it is a collaboration. This amendment made 30 minutes after initial publication time 4/4/19.