Additive Manufacturing or more commonly known as 3D Printing in the past few years has been evolving to be more than just a method of design validation and concept prototyping. With the expansion of materials, system capabilities and acceptance levels of the technology, many customers have started to explore into the possibility and benefits of using 3D printing in other avenues.
One such application is Jigs and Fixtures, the technology has made itself useful in various kinds of fixtures such as Checking, Assembly, Alignment etc taking advantage of 3D printing being able to create complex geometries in lightweight materials.
Altem Application engineering team faced a challenge to test if a 3D printed part can be used as a masking jig for Vacuum Metallization of Automotive parts, Vacuum Metallization is a process to create a reflective surface by depositing aluminium on the surface of the part by reducing the melting point of Aluminium by means of creating a vacuum environment. This brings the operating temperature down to 70C (approx.). Below is the part after metallization.
In this case the customer wanted to prevent the edges of the part from Deposition. The first task was to select a material suitable enough to sustain the process. We chose Stratasys ABSplus material as the heat deflection temperature of ABSplus in 82C which would sustain the temperature conditions inside the chamber.
Next step was to prove the process. In order to do so, we created a dummy part and its jig, both printed in solid configuration using the Stratasys uPrint SE plus at 254 microns.The part was then send to a test lab for Metallization. Surface preparation was performed to ensure there is no spilling of material, however we left a section of the surface to be rough to observe the effects. The test was successful. Below is the image of the assembly CAD model during the process.
With such and similar applications,3D printing is finding its place as a method to improve the efficiency of various existing manufacturing processes as well as in some cases being used as a method to manufacture low volumes of direct end use parts.