A successful test of 3D-printed thermoplastic molds demonstrates the potential of additive manufacturing in the tooling industry. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility collaborated with a team of industry partners to 3D-print and machine several large molds and test them in one of Boeing’s industrial autoclaves. The thermoplastic molds survived the high-temperature, high-pressure conditions in the autoclave, which is used to cure aerospace-grade composite parts. “This was the first successful demonstration of 100 percent digitally manufactured tools in an industrial autoclave,” said ORNL researcher Vlastimil Kunc. Researchers note that digital manufacturing could help lower manufacturing costs by accelerating production times; each tool was printed and machined in a matter of hours, whereas a mold produced with conventional techniques has an average lead time of 14 weeks.

A 3D-printed thermoplastic mold manufactured at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
A 3D-printed thermoplastic mold manufactured at ORNL withstood testing in an industrial autoclave. (Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

>Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility website

ORNL, Boeing Successfully Autoclave Fully 3D-Printed Tools