3D-Printed Punch And Die Stand Up To Steel

When you think of machine tooling, what comes to mind might be an endmill made of tungsten carbide or a punch and die made of high-speed steel. But surely there’s no room in the machine tool world for 3D-printed plastic tools, especially for the demanding needs of punching parts from sheet metal.

As it turns out, it is possible to make a 3D-printed punch and die set that will stand up to repeated use in a press brake. [Phil Vickery] decided to push the tooling envelope to test this, and came away pleasantly surprised by the results. In fairness, the die he used ended up being more of a composite between the carbon-fiber nylon filament and some embedded metal to reinforce stress points in the die block. It looks like the punch is just plastic, though, and both were printed on a Markforged Mark 2, a printer specifically designed for high-strength parts. The punch and die set were strong enough to form 14-gauge sheet steel in a press brake, which is pretty impressive. The tool wasn’t used to cut the metal; the blanks were precut with a laser before heading to the press. But still, having any 3D-printed tool stand up to metal opens up possibilities for rapid prototyping and short production runs.

No matter what material you make your tooling out of, there’s a lot to know about bending metal. Check out the basics in our guide to the art and science of bending metal.

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Vacuum Forming At Home

A little dumpster-diving let [Nick Skvarla] build his vacuum form machine for around $5. He pulled a vacuum cleaner out of the trash, which was tossed away because of a broken power plug. He put it into a box which had been sealed with spray foam and used a piece of pegboard for the top side of the enclosure. He takes a piece of 40 mil PETG plastic from the hobby shop and mounts it in a wooden frame. That goes into the oven on broil until the entire sheet is sagging, then onto the vacuum former. Above he’s making forms out of some figurines which he’ll walk you through in the video after the break.

There’s a whole world of manufacturing processes that use these forms as a starting point. What would you use this for?

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