Doesn’t seem like just a few years ago everyone was in wonder about 3D printing technology? Well while 3D printing was a concept out of science fiction, even a few years ago, its uses now encompass even the most critical industrial machinery. Common everyday metal springs, essentials for running the smallest of industrial equipment, need to be designed while keeping precision of function, mechanism and finishing in mind. 3D printing cannot actually produce springs that would replace metal anytime soon, hence, its use for rapid prototyping. Trial and error becomes a matter of just printing out the spring mechanism, which can later be reproduced accurately in metal.
Due to the limited space for installation, there is no scope of error while making the perfect springs. There remains not even a spare millimeter of clearance while fabricating a spring that performs a particular function. Product designers too are not sure what would be the exact kind of spring fit for their apparatus. With 3D printing technologies in hand, manufacturers can now ensure the accuracy of the dimensions for each type of spring, making sure that these springs can be fabricated. Gone are the days of a thousand iterations which saves designers valuable time and cost with the pre-fitting of a dummy spring- created through 3D printing.
To ensure that each spring is of uniform shape and size, 3D printed gauges can prove valuable. Freshly manufactured springs can then be compared to the gauges that measure thickness, shape and size as required. Hence, no possibility of alteration of dimensions remain that can cause the spring to work differently than it should. Not so bad eh?
As springs are sensitive and require as much accuracy as possible, there are several methods to manufacture them according to their dimensions. Different springs require specified machinery that accurately manufactures them. Various rapid prototyping services are available depending on your prototyping requirements.
CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Prototyping is the most widely used for rapid prototyping metal springs. Two established methods, CNC milling and CNC turning allow for the prototyping of production grade materials. This ensures that any kind of spring testing yields results that are accurate. Using the KCT680 coiling machine, compression springs are manufactured that can be used for altering the number, size, diameter and distance between every coil. Even the slightest of variations can make the springs work differently as intended; hence they are color coded to ensure correct application. 4-axis milling machines are the most sophisticated equipment used for CNC milling.
When building up a spring layer by layer, the technology to use would be additive manufacturing. While some parts are impossible to fabricate using traditional subtractive methods, additive manufacturing can perform exceptionally well for certain geometries. Even alloy combinations can be calculated and found out using this particular technology. Direct Metal Laser Sintering or DMLS are exceptional for spiraled surfaces of springs, which have highly complex geometries.
Providing excellent dimensional accuracy for rapid prototyping springs; pressure die casting promises smooth surfaces of cast, casting of inserts, reduction of secondary machining options and many more. In projects where CNC is too expensive, small batches can be executed effectively for low quantity of materials.
Remarkably versatile, 3D printing is soon to become a leading tool in spring manufacturing in the prime industries in the world. Greatly reducing the cost and time of developing springs on a day to day basis, it is possible that within the next decade, these additive manufacturing technologies will be widespread. Mere prototypes today, this revolutionary technology may be used for fabricating actual springs sometime in future. I wonder what the next few years will bring us?
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