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Industrial laser metal deposition to improve car die forming

Posted: 04 Dec 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Muhlhoff Umformtechnik? die forming? laser metal deposition? deep drawing? automotive manufacturing?

There is now a method to reduce the stress in forming dies for automotive manufacturing. Laser has been found to alloy surfaces with filler material, making them more robust and resistant to wear. This process increases the service life of dies used in automotive manufacturing by 150 percent, according to researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen together with the tool maker Muhlhoff Umformtechnik GmbH.

Deep drawing is a special forming process used by the automotive industry to form vehicle body parts into the requisite shape. As smooth and delicate as the process looks in the production hall, it actually puts enormous strain on dies. This is because of the high pressure generated during the pressing operation, above all at the die shoulders. These are the areas of forming dies where the material is drawn into the requisite shape, and it is precisely these surfaces that tend to wear very quickly. To function properly, the dies have to be maintained regularly and even replaced in extreme cases. This can see expensive manufacturing machines standing idle for up to an hour. Moreover, pressing dies are costly, one-of-a-kind items made from special raw materials.

Laser metal deposition

Thanks to laser metal deposition, the optimized forming die from Muhlhoff Umformtechnik GmbH is more robust than the previous. The photo shows the machine system used. (Fraunhofer IPT).

What manufacturers need are processes that increase the lifetime of dies and reduce set- up times. One such method is laser metal deposition. A laser beam carefully melts the surface of the die and the filler material to produce a local layer that guards against wear on the die surface. This process increases the robustness and resilience of the stainless steel die at critical points. The laser beam treatment is completed in fractions of a second. What has been lacking until now, however, is a universal, reproducible process for practical industrial use. This deficiency has now been remedied by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen together with Muhlhoff Umformtechnik and further partners in the course of a project within the Green Carbody Technologies Innovation Alliance (InnoCaT).

Researchers rebuilt a conventional five-axis milling machine so that it could be used to alloy forming dies automatically via laser. The machine can be embedded into the current manufacturing process and increases the lifetime of dies by over 150 percent. The process also improves the quality of components and makes it possible to plan set-up times with greater precision, as practical tests carried out on Muhlhoff's premises have shown. Muhlhoff manufactures sheet metal components for the automotive industry. The company's own toolshop supplies its various production locations with forming dies.

In addition to the laser metal deposition machine, another key part of the system is the integrated CAx software (CA = computer-aided). This software allows all the requisite laser surface treatment processes to be controlled in a clear, reproducible manner. All necessary process parameters are transmitted to the machine without the need for any interface. Processes can be simulated in detail and optimized in advance of actual processing operations.

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