How We Use 3D Printed Tooling In Our High Wear Parts On Our Bender

How We Use 3D Printed Tooling In Our High Wear Parts On Our Bender

At Addictive Adventure, we regularly work towards a SMED (single minute exchange of dies) goal, and implement a lean manufacturing style that is often adjusted to suit our unique needs. SMED focuses on maximizing manufacturing time by minimizing setup time between processes. For us, one of the simplest ways to do this was to implement the regular use of FDM 3D printed tooling and jigs into our manufacturing.

To manufacture a single bike rack here at Addictive Adventure, we use quite a few tools that all need to be set up and dialed in: CNC cutters and benders; automated cutters, benders, and cleaners; and manual welding, assembly, and packaging.

Our bike racks use a 1” tube to hold the front tire and a 1.25” tube to hold the rear tire. We bend parts in batches, of course, but it still means a lot of tooling changes. By 3D printing the tooling, we can fine tune each piece to minimize machine downtime. Our CNC tube bender requires the swap and setup of several parts each time we switch between 1” and 1.25” tube: the collet, radius die, boost die, clamp die, and mandrel all need to be swapped and adjusted. The 1” and 1.25” clamp, boost, and radius dies are all different sizes, but have to attach to the same parts of the machine.

Traditionally, when you swap from 1” to 1.25” tooling, the process looks like:

1) Install new radius, clamp, and boost dies

2) Install mandrel and collet

3) Adjust mandrel depth

4) Adjust clamp die pressure

5) Adjust boost die pressure

6) Adjust boost die speed

7) Run test part, adjust as necessary

By getting rid of hardened steel tooling and replacing it with 3d printed plastic tooling, we’ve been able to quickly fine tune tooling sizes instead of tuning the CNC machine each time. So now, when we swap from 1” to 1.25” bending, we can eliminate steps because the adjustments that we would traditionally make are now worked into the 3D printed parts. With modified 3D printed tooling, the process now looks like:

1) Install new radius, clamp, and boost dies

2) Install mandrel and collet 

3) Run test part, adjust as necessary

4) If adjustments are needed (rare), adjust 3d print file

In addition to less setup time, printing tooling has also allowed us to color code tooling and jigs. All 1” tooling can be green; all 1.25” can be red. Jigs for one part can be all the same color – or different color for the left-hand or right-hand versions. It minimizes errors by giving our crew a visual reminder that they have the correct tool for the job. If you’re working on a machine that has 3 green dies and 1 red die, it’s obvious what needs to be checked.

Not all tooling can be printed, though. The radius die, which is what the tubing bends around to give it shape, would delaminate with as much pressure as it sees while bending our thicker wall tubing. For us, the most benefit has come from replacing the boost die with a printed one. The boost die clamps against the tube and slides with it as it’s drawn around the radius die. With a hardened steel boost die, any imperfections in setup result in scratches and gouges in the tube; by switching to plastic, the tube is never marred. 

If you’re thinking that there’s no way a 3D printed plastic part can last as long as hardened steel tooling, well, you’re right. We’ve experimented with several different materials for printing, and have landed on PLA+ for most uses. For parts that require more durability, PA6-GF is our material of choice, but we use this sparingly because it’s very hydrophilic and difficult to print. 

Why PLA+ instead of traditional PLA? PLA+ is the same base material, but has additives that make it tougher without increasing hardness to a point of being brittle.  Specifically, we use Polymaker Polylite PLA Pro.  Polymaker also offers PolyMAX, which claims to be tougher, but the extra cost hasn’t proven valuable for our needs. 

For either material, we aim for a couple months of use. This is a fraction of the longevity of the hardened steel equivalent, but… when steel tooling fails it is abrupt, surprising, and expensive. The cost of a machined and hardened boost die is about $600, and it takes 4 weeks to get. Printing one from PLA+ is $15 and can be done overnight with our current printer. That steel part may last 20x as long, but it costs 40x as much, and it’s more money out of pocket to keep a spare on the shelf.

We started with a Prusa, then an Ender Pro, and now we’re incredibly happy with a Bambu Labs printer. The Bambu Labs printer has taken us from a 3-part, 72 hour boost die print to a single-piece 15 hour print. A built in webcam also allows it to be monitored, so if it does fail, it can be restarted or aborted remotely.

When it’s time to retire plastic tooling, it can be more difficult to recycle them than steel tooling. There are several recycling services that specialize in 3D printed parts, but traditional recycling programs usually won’t accept plastics without an identifying number stamp.

Experience Our Great Gear

When heading to your race, you want to make sure your bike makes it in one piece and without

damage. You will need to use a quality bike rack. Keep in mind that the one you choose can be

the difference between smooth transportation and a moving experience that leaves you overall

disappointed with scratches and paint peels on your car. 

At Addictive Adventure, we believe in making things locally whenever possible. Since we own our own factory right here in the great Pacific Northwest of the USA, we know every single product will perform as intended.

We have been building stainless steel industrial equipment for over 20 years.  We apply high-quality industrial manufacturing practices to everything we do. Our Bike Rack is built for durability.  100% stainless steel and aluminum construction, so it’s light where you want it and strong where you need it.

Learn More