Drastically reduces costs and shortens lead times with 3d systems’ large-format pellet-extrusion 3d printing

Product: Figure 4
Industry: Automotive and Transportation

Duo Form, a leader in thermoforming for a wide variety of industries, advances its production capabilities with polymer pellet-extrusion additive manufacturing (AM). By collaborating with 3D Systems to integrate AM into its manufacturing processes and leveraging its Titan 3D printer, Duo Form is drastically decreasing costs, shortening lead times, and becoming more agile by 3D printing representative samples, production molds, and tools for thermoforming and vacuum forming processes.

“We have gained a lot of business with our Titan 3D printer. The turnaround time for parts, molds, and formed parts has put us leaps and bounds above our competition.” 

– David Rheinheimer, Duo Form Product Development Manager

Time, Cost, and Delays in the Production Process

In the competitive thermoformed plastics market, Duo Form continually works to innovate its manufacturing process, shorten lead times and reduce costs to better serve its customers and win new business. At the same time, maintaining mold quality and durability is key.

Time and cost savings are not the only challenges, thermoformers like Duo Form face. They also need to innovate quickly with design iteration and produce full-scale prototypes to avoid delays in the approval and production process.

Producing Molds with AM

3d systems titan customer duo form thermoform mold

Duo Form now 3D prints thermoforming molds using polymer pellet-extrusion on its Titan 3D printer, replacing traditional CNC methods to create ceramic or metal molds. Large-format pellet-extrusion AM uses cost-effective thermoplastic pellets that are common to other extrusion manufacturing such as injection molding, and which cost up to 10X less than traditional FDM filaments. 3D Systems’ pellet extrusion systems also enable high-throughput printing, with print speeds up to 10X faster than filament systems. 

3D Systems and Duo Form identified a grade of glass-filled polycarbonate pellets as an ideal material for printing thermoform molds, as it is affordable, easily procured, and has proven to withstand the thermoforming process as a durable and dimensionally accurate material.

Duo Form also leverages 3D Systems’ printing experience to achieve optimal printing parameters to print molds with the right porosity to function as vacuum passages. This unique ability of additively manufactured molds eliminates the need for special tools to properly form cavities into the thermoformed component, further reducing time and labor costs for producing molds. 

Innovation and Design Iteration with AM

Incorporating AM goes beyond the mold-making process for Duo Form. As a leading innovator in its industry, Duo Form also utilizes its Titan 3D printer to quickly print sample parts of final products to present to customers ahead of making the tool. Directly printing parts for design approval before proceeding to the mold-making process has opened the door for faster design iteration and overall shorter lead times.

Significant Cost Savings and Reduction in Lead Times

3d systems titan customer duo form thermoform part closeup

Duo Form saw immediate results with the first thermoform mold the company printed on its Titan pellet-based 3D printer, a shower pan for a recreation vehicle. 3D printing the small shower pan reduced costs by more than 50 percent and printing took less than 20 hours, resulting in a high-quality mold with similar longevity to traditionally manufactured molds. Duo Form Product Development Manager David Rheinheimer reported that this 3D printed mold went into production and has been pulled over 1,000 shots without showing any significant wear and is still producing 100% quality parts. 

Duo Form and 3D Systems also partnered on a project to produce a train interior panel using the Titan pellet extrusion system to demonstrate AM for large-format mold production. 3D printing this 1,294 mm x 410 mm x 287 mm mold shows the potential for up to 88 percent estimated cost reduction and up to 65 percent reduction in lead time compared to traditional ceramic mold methods and even greater savings when compared to traditional aluminum mold methods.

worker carrying duo form thermoform part

Since implementing AM as part of its manufacturing process, Duo Form says the company has won more business and now closes deals faster thanks to the speed and agility of pellet-extrusion 3D printing. As an example, Rheinheimer shared how Duo Form 3D printed a sample part to present to a customer along with a quote for forming the part. The customer, impressed with the speed and ability to see the final design first, awarded Duo Form the bid that same day. This is now standard practice for Duo Form and brings added value to its customers.

Rheinheimer says he can also see another value AM brings to manufacturers when it comes to storing molds, especially for products that are out of production but may need to be formed in the future for spare parts. With AM, a digital inventory means you can eliminate the need to store legacy molds, and instead quickly print a new mold whenever the need arises.

Additive manufacturing complements conventional production processes. Duo Form’s adoption of large-format pellet extrusion 3D printing exemplifies how AM and traditional methods can work together to achieve optimal manufacturing speed, cost management, and quality part production.