For years, SSL has used FDM technology for prototyping and even some production parts. More recently, the SSL team benefited from using 3D printing to produce customized high-temperature lay-up tooling in situations that are highly time-sensitive, require rapid response, and necessitate complex, custom geometries. In one such case, Stratasys was able to provide SSL with a highly tailored lay-up tool capable of the required 350 °F (180 °C), high-pressure autoclave cure cycle in less than 48 hours (shipping time included), a 50% reduction in lead time. The time savings were critical in this case, highlighting one of the core advantages of 3D printing.
According to Jude Zils, SSL technology manager, “Stratasys additive composite tooling solutions have allowed SSL to respond to design releases and changes with unprecedented speed at significantly reduced cost, without compromising part quality or performance. This game-changing technology is facilitating a level of customization and rapid response that our customers can really appreciate.” Additive manufacturing allows SSL to eliminate the high costs and lengthy lead times typically associated with composite tool production. In situations that are extremely time-sensitive, lead time is measured in hours and days rather than the typical weeks or months for traditional composite tooling.
Depending on part complexity and size, a tool build can take just a few days, and quite frequently less than 24 hours. This, compared with many days or even multiple weeks for traditional machined tool assemblies, affords SSL unprecedented levels of flexibility. These time savings not only permit SSL to meet the increasing demands of shorter customer lead times, but also allow much greater design freedom and shorter product iteration cycles that result in superior levels of part performance and functionality.