3D Printed Tooling Punches Above Its Weight With Added Hardware

Reddit user [thetelltalehart] has been making brake press tooling with 3D printed PLA, and recently shared an interesting picture of a hybrid brake press punch, shown here on the right, in blue.

Printed in PLA, with 80% infill and 12 walls, the tool (right) failed at 5 tons.

In a press, material such as sheet metal is formed into a shape by forcing the material around the tooling. Some types of tooling can be 3D printed, and it turns out that printed tools are not only fast and economical, but can be surprisingly resilient. You can see such tools in action in our earlier coverage of this approach here and here.

[Thetelltalehart]’s previous work was printed at 80% infill and 12 walls, and failed at 5 tons. The new hybrid tool adds some common hardware that has the effect of reinforcing the tool for very little added expense or complexity. The new tool made it up to 7 tons before failure. It’s a clever idea, and an apparently effective one.

The goal with these 3D printed tools is twofold: doing short-run work, and reducing costly rework when developing “real” tooling. Having to re-cut a tool because it isn’t quite right in some way is expensive and costly, and it’s much easier and cheaper to go through that process with 3D printing instead of metal.

3D-Printed Tools Turn Bench Vise Into Expedient Press Brake

Chances are pretty good that most of us have used a bench vise to do things far beyond its intended use. That’s understandable, as the vise may be the most powerful hand tool in many shops, capable of exerting tons of pressure with the twist of your wrist. Not taking advantage of that power wouldn’t make any sense, would it?

Still, the clamping power of the vise could sometimes use a little finesse, which is the thinking behind these 3D-printed press brake tools.  [Brauns CNC] came up with these tools, which consist of a punch and a die with mating profiles. Mounted to the jaws of the vise with magnetic flanges, the punch is driven into the die using the vise, forming neat bends in the metal. [Braun] goes into useful detail on punch geometry and managing springback of the workpiece, and handling workpieces wider than the vise jaws. The tools are printed in standard PLA or PETG and are plenty strong, although he does mention using his steel-reinforced 3D-printing method for gooseneck punches and other tools that might need reinforcement. We’d imagine carbon-fiber reinforced filament would add to the strength as well.

To be sure, no matter what tooling you throw at it, a bench vise is a poor substitute for a real press brake. Such machine tools are capable of working sheet metal and other stock into intricate shapes with as few setups as possible, and bring a level of power and precision that can’t be matched by an improvised setup. But the ability to make small bends in lighter materials with homemade tooling and elbow grease is a powerful tool in itself.

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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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