Work Holding Application off the HP 4200

August 6, 2019

On the hunt for features in Volume 27 Issue 3 of TCT Magazine, the editorial team was on the lookout for something novel for both the machining update and the jigs and fixtures feature. Fortuitously, a visit to Matsuura UK’s open-house proved to be one of those rare two birds with one stone incidents, and if you include generative design under the simulation umbrella, you can bump off a third bird to boot.

Walking into the Leicestershire HQ showroom you’re greeted with mammoth machinery like that of the Matsuura MAM72-35V – a 5-axis CNC considered one of the most reliable in the industry. In the same, giant room is the LUMEX Avance-25 – Matsuura’s state-of-the-art metal laser sintering and CNC milling hybrid technology. With the ability to machine complex internal structures, AM Sales and Technical Specialist Joseph Bellis tells me the LUMEX machine is revolutionising the way mould and die companies are creating moulds.

The curiosity for this piece, however, lies through some double swing doors at the back of the room; in Matsuura UK’s new Additive Manufacturing Facility – home to a host of HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology alongside post-processing equipment from Rösler and DyeMansion.

“Using 3D printing, you can design, print, mount on your machine and start manufacturing your customer’s part within 48 hours.”

Peter Harris, Additive Manufacturing Manager at Matsuura UK, runs the AM facility like an operating theatre; the place is immaculate, room temperature optimised, and the parts on display have keyhole surgery-like accuracy.

When Matsuura UK first took on the HP suite of the 3D printing products back in March 2018, the leap from the company’s core skillset in selling CNC machinery to plastic-based 3D printing may have raised a few eyebrows. Yet, it is precisely Matsuura’s knowledge in heavy machinery and the relationships it has with a customer base new to the technology that could unlock both a killer application and a new market for MJF.

One of the biggest hurdles to spindle optimisation – the key performance indicator for any CNC machine shop – is workholding setup and changeover. Workholding fixtures are traditionally manufactured in metal and can take up to two weeks to make; it’s been a bottleneck in CNC milling since the dawn of the technology.

“Initially we just wanted to prove the strength of MultiJet Fusion parts,” says Peter Harris. “But by using Generative Design from Autodesk Fusion 360, and the speed of an HP4200 Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing machine we’ve created a bespoke workholding for a five-axis CNC machining demonstration on a Matsuura MX-850.”

Made as a proof of concept for a trade show the workholding is cheaper (roughly 50%), considerably lighter than a traditional fixture meaning more weight can be loaded onto the machine pallet, and, most importantly, significantly quicker.

“By using 3D printing, you can design, print, mount on your machine and start manufacturing your customer’s part within 48 hours,” explains Peter.

Matsuura workholding
The new workholding fixture is significantly lighter than a traditional counterpart.

This particular design was created by feeding the mounting points of the machine and components, as well as cutting access and various other parameters like swarf channels or hose connections to Autodesk Generative Design tools. The software embedded within the Autodesk Fusion 360 package will, in turn, create fixtures infinitely until you are satisfied, and that file will be unlike any other mount you’ve seen before.

“We’re not saying it’s going to replace metal fixtures in for each application, because that would just be bonkers,” explains Peter. “But what we’re proving is that 3D printing is strong and versatile. For certain applications, certain volumes of production, MJF offers a real viable alternative.”

The generatively designed workholding solution was not only a proof of concept for one of HP’s target applications in Jigs & Fixtures but also served as a wake-up to the Matsuura UK staff of 3D printing’s abilities.

“Even internally, we’ve seen the attitude towards HP 3D printers internally change,” says Peter. “That’s starting to become reflected within our traditional customers; all of a sudden, they see something that fits their business. It is amazing how many people since we showcased the part have told us how long they spend changing their fixtures.”

Matsuura isn’t the first company to 3D print workholding fixtures for CNC machining; one of its customers, BCW Manufacturing Group, invested in the HP2000 3D printer for that very reason. BCW’s Engineering Director, Tony Kilfoyle recently gave a testimonial to Matsuura’s website saying that plastic parts not only sped up the time they became ready to cut but that they had proved to absorb vibration from the cutter better than the metal tool.

“BCW were generally printing fixtures more designed by traditional metal mentality, and then adapting no designs for additive. They saw this generatively designed tool at Southern Manufacturing and realised their design process can sometimes be a bottleneck.

“Autodesk had a hectic two days at the show thanks to this part,” added Peter.

After proving the strength of HP MJF with this workholding, Matsuura’s next mission is to prove that plastic 3D printing is capable of high-volume production. Peter says that with both the MJF technology and the accompanying DyeMansion post-processing side, it will have some volume studies to show later on this year at TCT Show that proves when 3D printing is a viable and cheaper solution than moulding.

Taking the work out of workholding: Matsuura combines 3D printing and generative design to produce concept fixture
by Daniel O’Connor

5 August 2019