Deceuninck redesigns die components for 3D printing with metal

Construction industry profile manufacturer Deceuninck is no stranger to 3D printing. Employees at the company participated in the 'Design for Manufacturing' masterclass in order to learn more about the technology. It turned out to be a successful follow-up step in what was basically an alternative way of thinking and a critical approach to existing processes.

Located in Hooglede in West Flanders, Deceuninck designs and manufactures innovative solutions using sustainable materials based on PVC and wood composite for windows and doors, as well as applications for gardens, roofs, external walls and interiors. The company also provides technical support for architects, window manufacturers and customers in the construction industry profile manufacturing sector. Being a top notch Belgian company and market leader in its sector, Deceuninck is able to accurately anticipate specific demands in the national market. Continuous exchange of information between customers and the Product development department makes it possible to take advantage of the continually changing requirements emanating from the market.

From visual concepts to functional prototypes

Deceuninck aims for innovation in both the product and the production process. Additive manufacturing has already been applied for quite a number of years. In 2005 3D printing was already being used for prototyping. This was initially done by subcontractors via an external partner and was used for creating visual concepts for new products. The aim then was to create confidence in new dies for each profile. 

Since 2003, 3D printing has been done both in-house, as well as being outsourced. This is to guarantee the security of construction systems - each individual profile and combinations thereof. This ultimately led to acquiring their own 3D printer. The technology chosen was FDM (fused deposition modeling), one of the reasons for this is that the ABS plastic used is very similar to PVC. The ultimate aim is to 3D print and functionally test all the profiles so that a complete window, i.e. frame, leaf, glazing beads and other components, can be produced. 

For this reason the initial step was taken towards printing metal. The first piece suitable for this was an insert, which was initially made in-house from die steel and into which details were milled. The piece was then hardened, flared and polished. However, the lifespan was limited because of a combination of wear and rust forming. The new working method involved the piece being 3D printed externally using CoCr. This cost exactly the same, except that it lasted twice as long. The insert design had to be modified in order to step over to 3D printing. Several iterative prototypes were created in order to achieve the desired tolerances, thereby making the finishing stage unnecessary. The working methodology has been adopted as the standard for over a year now. 

Internal know-how gained from the masterclass

The technology used for 3D printing appeared very promising, although Deceuninck lacked the knowledge to fully utilize the potential. This is why a number of employees took the 'Design for additive manufacturing' masterclass, organised by Sirris. They brought along the insert to use as a case study that was given a new geometry suitable for AM. The most suitable solution was investigated together with the AM experts at Sirris. 

The knowledge acquired in the masterclass was used for taking the next step in printing metal - the complete realization of a calibre. The aim was to functionally design and realize the piece in-house using 3D printing and with the application of a completely new system. In order to come up with a comparison, two identical steel calibres were ordered from one of the normal external partners in China. 

Calibre as test case

The known system resulted in a known concept in which the pieces had to be further tuned on-site in order to achieve the quality and finish desired. The new system based on AM was extremely easy, simple to install, efficient regarding energy and water consumption and the laboratory results were unparalleled. Moreover the AM calibre made from CoCr was wear-resistant. However the system does not work for all the profiles and there is only limited possibility for regulating and tuning the calibre. 

The methodology applied for focussing on the functionalities also had an impact on the redesign of the pieces (monitor calibres) that were made using conventional technology, resulting in a drastic reduction in costs, with the ease of use for customers sharply improving. 

Deceuninck concluded from tests that 3D printing is a feasible alternative concept for specific applications. Furthermore, the new system is price competitive with orders placed with external suppliers and the time-to-market is substantially shortened. The methodology certainly requires designers with knowledge of the process and focus on the functionalities of the equipment deployed.  In general, additive manufacturing can therefore be applied as a complementary technology for backing up existing production methods. It forms a technically exciting and economically interesting alternative for specific applications. 

Deceuninck's achievements give us an excellent example of the success that you could also achieve with additive manufacturing. Would you like to know what switching to additive manufacturing could mean for your product or process? On 24 and 25 February and 17 March 2016, Sirris will once again be giving the 'Design for Additive Manufacturing' masterclass where you can acquire the knowledge and understanding for designing components specifically for AM. This would result in you fully benefiting from the available advantages. Would you like more information about the masterclass? Take a peep at our agenda and register now!