The POM (Precision Optical Manufacturing) Group, Inc., has introduced DirecTool(TM), a new manufacturing technique that slashes design cycle times by eliminating the need for "soft," or interim prototype tooling. The DirecTool(TM) technique, which uses POM's revolutionary DMD(TM) (Direct Metal Deposition) process, can cut more than 75 percent from the product design cycle through its ability to produce fully dense, pure metal "hard" prototype tooling -- directly from a CAD file.

DirecTool is a departure from traditional "rapid tooling" solutions in that it does not rely on stereo lithography, selective laser sintering or fused deposition modeling-produced prototype patterns. These patterns are typically used as "masters" from which a second-generation rapid tool is fabricated.

The DirecTool technique uses production-intent materials, like 100% tool steel, to fabricate tooling directly from digital CAD files -- without any intermediary steps.

"We've taken the 'rapid tooling' concept and turned it into 'direct tooling,'" said Dwight Morgan, president and chief operating officer of POM. "Unlike current rapid tooling techniques, DirecTool creates a prototype tool that evolves into the actual production tool -- without wasting valuable time or materials."b

From 'Rapid Tooling' to 'Direct Tooling'

DMD, the enabling technology for DirecTool, is an additive laser-based fabrication process, which builds production or prototype tooling directly from digital CAD files using production-intent materials in powder form. Because of the additive nature of DMD, prototype tooling made using DirecTool can be modified throughout the design cycle. And, because the process deposits pure metal, once the last iteration of the product design is completed, the prototype tool can instantly be transformed into the actual production tool.

Morgan estimates that DirecTool can cut a typical 19-26 week tooling design cycle to 4-8 weeks. This, in turn, minimizes development costs and lead-time to market for products.

"Today's manufacturers face a seemingly never-ending battle to get new products to market in record times," Morgan said. "By reducing the number of steps involved in the tooling production process, POM is giving companies a critical 'leg up' in terms of getting to market first."

How DirecTool works:

The six-step process of creating tooling using DMD and the DirecTool
technique is:
Step 1: Concept designs for new products are envisioned;
Step 2: Designs for tooling systems are created using CAD systems;
Step 3: These digital CAD representations of the tooling are then
automatically converted into buildable layers called "slices" using
conventional CAM software;
Step 4: The build files are downloaded to a DMD machine, where an
industrial laser is guided under CNC control along these build layers.
The laser is used to create a melt pool and powdered metal is
automatically injected into the melt pool. This melt pool rapidly
solidifies and directly forms the desired part to near net-shaped
dimensions;
Step 5: The as-deposited part is final finished by high-speed CNC
machining, EDM, or laser machining to achieve desired net shape and
surface finish for the tool;
Step 6: The fully dense, "direct tool" is completed, without any
reliance on a rapid prototype master or other indirect approaches.

Design changes to the tooling follow the same process, but the metal powder is deposited onto the active molding surface of the completed tool.

"The time savings this technology provides is significant, but that's not the only advantage of DirecTool," Morgan added. "This process creates tools with fine and consistent microstructures, which result in pure metal parts with superior quality and strength."

POM, based in Plymouth, Mich., is one of the world's first companies to introduce a reliable, laser-based direct metal fabrication process capable of producing prototype and production tooling associated with the plastic injection molding and die casting markets. A minority owned and operated service bureau and OEM, POM provides DMD process equipment as well as finite element analysis, CAD/CAM, fabrication and repair services.