IMTS is where the latest innovations in manufacturing take place. Among the new technologies presented last week, there were new efficient and ultra-precision machine tools, machining centers working with cobots, and hybrid machines with 3D printing capabilities. We also discovered a new affordable manufacturing solution for making metal parts without using any dies. This process, which is completely unique, enables us to digitally form metal sheet panels at a low cost. At IMTS, we spoke with Justin Nardone, CEO, and founder of Figur, the company behind this new digital sheet forming technology to know more about this new process.
Hicham Dhouibi contributed to this report.
Figur G 15 has just been released on the market. Its specificity is to digitally form metal parts from a flat sheet without using any dies and without having to change tools, explained Justin Nardone, CEO and founder of Figur.
“We create parts from metal panels and we are able to create all sorts of different shapes for architectural parts, aerospace, and automotive. We just have to make a digital change in the programming. We don’t need to change any tools in the machine.”
No Dies Needed
In the manufacturing industry, in order to form a part from a metal sheet, a die must first be formed with the shape of the part. The punch and tools used to make the part must also be fabricated. This process is very expensive. Tooling and dies are indeed very expensive. A die set can for example cost up to 500 000 USD.
Once the tools are ready, they are placed in a press, the sheet metal is inserted and the punch goes down into the die and hits the sheet metal to form the part. This process is not only expensive, but it is not flexible because it only allows the production of the same parts. To make other parts, you have to make other dies, other punches, and other tools. The main advantage of this process is its speed.
Figur aims to address the cost problem by offering an affordable metal forming solution that prevents industrial players from investing in expensive tooling sets.
Forming Metal Sheets Layer by Layer
Everything starts with a 3D drawing of the part that is sent to the machine, just like for a 3D printer.
“Then, we insert a flat sheet of metal into the machine and we run the program. The sheet is about 2 mm. A ceramic tool then presses the sheet into layers, until the final part is obtained. The program forms the sheet by pressing it down into layers but with no dies.”
The process looks a bit like the classic one as it means forming the sheet metal. But that formation is done level by level, a bit like in 3D printing.
The advantage of this system is that it is cheaper than classic metal forming and more flexible. You can create different parts with the same machine and use different types of metal.
Figur can handle titanium, copper, stainless steel, aluminum,
“This is a completely digital process, totally flexible. You can be making a car fender in the morning and switch to an aerospace part in the afternoon without having to change any dies.”
The main disadvantage is that, like 3D printing, the process is longer because it is done layer by layer. According to Mr. Nardone, forming parts can take from 20 minutes up to 2 hours, depending on the geometry of the part and how deep it is.
So is this process a 3D printing process or a machining process? Figur is part of a 3D printing group, Desktop Metal, and it is no coincidence as their technology resembles 3D printing.
Both processes are indeed based on digital files.
“By changing a digital file, it is possible, for example, to 3D print various plastic parts with the same machine. It’s kind of the same thing here but with sheet metal parts.”
However, unlike additive manufacturing, no material is added to make the part that is formed directly from the original flat metal sheet.
“We are not building up from a powder or from melting materials. It’s in the same spirit as 3D printing. We call this process digital manufacturing.”
A software pack comes with the machine. It provides guidelines on what the machine can and cannot form.
One of the secondary processes for Figur G 15 could be mold manufacturing. Making a mold is generally a very expensive process too. But with this machine, it could be possible to form cheap metal molds for the architecture industry for example.
The technology could also be integrated into other processes. Figur is currently working with other partners to implement the process into automated assembly lines.
Mr. Nardone also believes the process will get faster in the future.
In the meantime, Figur G 15 is manufactured as a turnkey solution that can directly be put on a machine floor and start making parts.
Its price is a little under 500 000 USD and comes with the software and the ceramic tools. The first machines are expected to be shipped at the beginning of 2023, starting in the United States.
Phone: 136 6181 3373
Tel: 021-5106 1321