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New market opportunities for the European tooling industry by automated polishing

Automated polishing processes can reduce the processing time of manual polishing by a factor of at least 10. Therefore an international consortium of companies and R&D centers coordinated by Fraunhofer has launched a 3.9 Million Euro project called poliMATIC. The goal of the 3 years R&D project funded by the European Commission is to reduce the manufacturing costs of tools and to overcome the problem of missing skilled and experienced workers for manual polishing. The project partners thereby aim to open new market opportunities for the European tooling industry.

The tooling industry in Europe represents an annual turnover of 13 billion Euros. For the manufacturing of injection and die casting moulds 12 to 15 % of the manufacturing costs and 30 to 50 % of the manufacturing time fall upon to the polishing. The predominantly small and medium sized European companies specialized in polishing dies and moulds are currently facing a low-cost competition with Asia. Furthermore moving the surface finishing of the tools out of Europe is often only the first step - frequently the whole added value of the tool manufacturing is moving in a second step.

To eliminate these drawbacks a European consortium of innovative companies and R&D centers launched a 3.9 Million Euro project called poliMATIC in June 2010. This SME targeted collaborative project is funded for 3 years by the European Commission and coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen, Germany.

The overall objective of poliMATIC is the development of two automated polishing techniques with a significant shorter processing time than manual polishing (between 10 to 30 times shorter) and full CAD/CAM compatibility. With these techniques the experienced workers in SME's specialized in polishing can focus on the more complex parts of a tool.

The roughness of the surface of dies and moulds is a crucial factor to meet the requirements of various applications. Therefore in the European tooling industry polishing techniques are widely used to achieve a suitable low surface roughness. However, the current automated techniques are predominantly based on large-area abrasion, such as electro polishing, electro-chemical polishing or drag finishing. They typically present a non-uniform polishing quality on the moulds and dies and lead to edge rounding and geometrical deviations. Furthermore deeper cavities are hardly to process. Therefore the current automated techniques are almost not applicable on parts with free-form surfaces and function relevant edges like most tools feature.

Thus polishing in the tooling industry is mostly done manually. The quality of manual polishing strongly depends on the worker's skills and experiences to execute a very demanding but monotone work. The scarce presence of skilled craftsmen on the market generates problems to companies all over Europe to recruit suitable employees. Due to the low processing speed (typically in the range of 10 to 30 min/cm²) and the sequential workflow, the production of moulds and dies with manual polishing is time-consuming and cost-intensive.

Having outstanding advantages, the two proposed technological approaches in the project poliMATIC, both laser polishing (LP) and force-controlled robot polishing (FCRP), offer the prospect of strengthening the competitiveness of the European tooling industry by shorter process times for surface finishing. The project partners - 3 institutes and 12 companies from 8 countries - intend to implement with LP and FCRP automated polishing techniques in the production of high added value products.

During the project poliMATIC processing strategies for 3D parts and a knowledge-based CAx-framework will be developed. Another task of the project is the long time test of automated polished tools. In order to assess the automated polishing techniques in comparison to manual polishing, new measurable surface quality criteria will also be investigated. The results of the poliMATIC project will be demonstrated by automated polished complex shaped moulds and dies from industrial partners.

Contacts: If you have any questions regarding this topic, please feel free to contact our experts:

Dr.-Ing. Edgar Willenborg Laser Polishing Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT Steinbachstraße 15, 52074 Aachen, Germany Phone +49 241 8906-213 edgar.willenborg@ilt.fraunhofer.de

M.Sc. André Drimeyer Wilbert Robot Polishing Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT Steinbachstraße 17, 52074 Aachen, Germany Phone +49 241 8904-441 andre.wilbert@ipt.fraunhofer.de

idw :: 16.09.2010