FDM for Composite Tooling
Traditional manufacturing methods for high-performance, fiber-reinforced polymer matrix composite structures require hard tooling for the mold or mandrel that dictates the shape of the final part. These tools are commonly made of metal (aluminum, steel, or Invar alloys), although non-metallic materials like high-temperature tooling board and specialized composite tooling materials are also used. Regardless of material, tool fabrication typically requires significant labor and machining, which leads to high costs, material waste, and long lead times of weeks for relatively simple shapes and many months for more complex tools.
FDM is becoming the technology of choice for rapid production of high-temperature (>350 °F [177 °C]), low-volume, composite lay-up and repair tools, as well as for moderate-temperature (<325 °F [163° C]) production sacrificial tooling. FDM lay-up tools have many similar design and use considerations as traditional tooling, particularly those with higher coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE), such as aluminum and epoxy tooling board, although the technology provides greater design capability and freedom.
Benefits of FDM for Composite Tooling include:
- Reduces lead time from months to days
- Lowers tooling costs by >50%
- Enables cost-effective composite part prototyping
- Simplifies tool design and fabrication with increased functionality
- Withstands high-temperature autoclave and oven cure cycles (>350 °F, 100 psig)
- Provides low-hassle sacrificial and wash-out solutions for complex, trapped-tooling applications
- Permits trouble-free design changes and iteration
If you’d like more detailed information on FDM for composite tooling, such as best practices and use-case examples, download the Stratasys FDM for Composite Tooling Design Guide.