I had the pleasure of meeting Rich Guillemette today and touring the Guill Tool manufacturing plant in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Besides a great sense of humor evidenced by the hand above, Guill Tool is a world-class manufacturers of extrusion tooling. Depending on the particular die being made, machinists will use electrical discharge machining (EDM), lathes, five-axis CNC and other powerful staples of traditional manufacturing to create dies with high-precision extrusion channels as well as internal cooling channels to cool the tool as material is extruded.
Increasingly, we are seeing manufacturers of dies adopt metal 3D printing. Complex shapes that would require multiple pieces and cuts with an EDM machine can instead be produced in a single piece. This reduces lead times and enables digital storage of the die model file for faster replacement. As Peter Carlsson, VP of Supply Chain at Tesla, said in his recent keynote at CSCMP, turn-around time for tooling is increasingly important as product life-cycles decrease. Whereas 4-6 weeks used to be acceptable in the automobile industry, Tesla now wants a turnaround time of 2-3 weeks or better.
In addition to faster die fabrication, extrusion rate and consistency can be improved by using conformal cooling channels that elegantly trace the shape of the extrusion channel. With traditional manufacturing, cooling channels are mostly restricted to linear cuts. Conformal channels increase cooling consistency and reduce heat gradients within the die.
Thanks again to Rich for spending the afternoon with me and teaching me so much about the status quo for manufacturing dies. I'll post an update when I can share some of the exciting projects Guill Tool is working on in 3D printing.