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£1.2M DigiTool project to transform UK’s tool and die sector with 3D printing

A UK-based initiative will seek to transform and revolutionize the nation’s tool and die sector using advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing, adaptive machining and Industry 4.0. The project, called DigiTool, is supported by £1.2 million, some of which has been provided by Innovate UK.

The DigiTool project, which has a two-year schedule, brings together a number of players from the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector, including the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and consortium partners Toolroom Technology Limited (TTL), Applied Tech Systems (ATS), Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT), INSPHERE Ltd and Kimber Mills International.

Together, the parties aim to establish and promote the ability to remanufacture worn or damaged dies using additive manufacturing, adaptive machining and Industry 4.0. The project will be targeted at helping organizations of all sizes in the tool and die sector. Overall, the goal of the DigiTool project is to offer a cost-effective alternative to expensive die replacement and repair processes.

By utilizing advanced manufacturing processes, damaged or worn dies can be repaired instead of replaced, cutting costs and material usage. Notably, the ability to repair existing dies also contributes to a more sustainable manufacturing approach. Presently, the DigiTool consortium is exploring how AM and adaptive solutions can be used to repair damaged areas of dies using a retrofitted legacy machine tool—meaning that manufacturers might not need to buy a new AM system.

DigiTool UK consortium

The process consists of using scanning and metrology technologies to identify worn areas, and then using AM processes, such as laser metal deposition, to remanufacture the part back to its original form. The DigiTool project is also focused on user-friendliness, as the consortium is dedicated to offering a digital platform that can be easily integrated as an affordable solution for SMEs seeking to adopt new technologies without having to buy brand-new hardware.

“The consortium is all bringing different areas of expertise to the project, which is hoped to enhance competition across the industry through the uptake of innovation and new technology,” commented Stephen Fitzpatrick, Machining and Additive Manufacturing Team Lead at the AFRC. “Investment has been slow across the tool and die sector, which has made it difficult for organizations with limited resources to rethink their manufacturing process.

“Through our additive manufacturing digital framework, we’ll provide these companies with access to new research, technology and insight at a low cost. Many firms within the sector may already have a machine that can be retrofitted to integrate laser metal deposition, allowing them to upgrade current assets and save the costs of purchasing a brand-new machine.”

The DigiTool project is being led by Toolroom Technology Limited, though the AFRC will be leading the additive manufacturing areas. The other consortium members will be researching within their respective areas of expertise, including metrology and scanning, adaptive machining and digital integration. Ultimately, the new manufacturing methods employed will be combined on a single platform at AFRC, using its LMD Hybrid Machine that features for additive and machining tools.

At this stage, project trials have already taken place and the consortium partners are analyzing a die for a railway application from Kimber Mills with the goal of remanufacturing it and readying it for service.

“This is a forward thinking project that can bring real benefits to the tool and die industry, helping traditional manufacturing businesses to embrace cutting edge digital technologies to boost efficiency and sustainability,” added Robin Wilson, Innovation Lead & Catapult Relationship Manager, Manufacturing at Innovate UK. “The area of remanufacturing is a truly exciting one and we are delighted to support DigiTool and the diverse range of partners that are involved. We look forward to charting its progress.”

Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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