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Steel tools built using salami tactics

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 15 November, 2002  (New Product)
Gazing through a car showroom window, have you ever asked yourself how they manage to make such a variety of different models? One thing's for sure: The days of 'any color as long as it's black' and one model for all have gone forever. The new buzzword not only in the car industry is mass customization, still mass production, but incorporating a maximum of personalized features.
Quite apart from the logistics, this trend also challenges manufacturers by requiring them to rapidly build new presses and forming tools and integrate them in production lines. Rapid technologies are ideal for toolmaking. What sets them apart from traditional methods like casting and milling is that the chain of steps from the first CAD drafts to the final part should be almost entirely an electronical one.

One of the youngest members of this 'rapid' family bears the name MELATO, or Metal Laminated Tooling. Dr. Anja Techel, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden, describes the first step in this process: 'Like a salami slicing machine, the computer first divides a model of the tool into thin layers. Using a software program developed by our industrial partner, it then virtually aranges the individual slices in an optimum layout, and a laser cuts them out from a real sheet of metal.' The next step is where 'laminated' comes in: The pieces are stacked one on top of the other and, held together by a vise, either glued or soldered or welded together. A dual-action machine then gives the steel tool, measuring up to 70 x 150 centimeters, the final finish: Metal is applied to critical areas by means of laser deposition welding to about 0.3 millimeters precision, then the part is milled to its final shape.

MELATO and many other rapid technologies will be presented by the Fraunhofer Rapid Prototyping Network, which comprises the IWS and eleven other Fraunhofer Institutes, at the Euro-uRapid2002. This international users' conference is to be held in Frankfurt-am-Main on December 2 and 3. Visitors from the car industry, its suppliers, aerospace, medical engineering and all other branches of industry confronted with rapid product innovation will be able to learn about the latest developments in over 50 conference papers. A hands-on presentation of rapid technologies can then be experienced at the EuroMold trade show, at the same venue from December 4 to 7. And if you want a souvenir to take home: An injection-molding machine using rapid 'metal printed' molds will create a bust of Joseph von Fraunhofer in plastic, at the joint Fraunhofer stand in Hall 8.
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