Suitability of 3D Printing for Molds

Suitability of 3D Printing for Molds

Composite production relies heavily on the use of molds in order to produce (small) series and
intricate shapes. Most of these molds are either made of the same materials as the product itself, or
out of metals such as aluminum or steel. While these molds are durable in the sense that they can be
used for many products, they are expensive to produce and after use they are usually stored away;
thus creating a growing mound of waste material that has no purpose or means of being reused.
As the use of composite materials in various fields grows, the demand for a more durable mold
production grows with it. Furthermore, quick production and recyclability could lead to a reduction
of costs which in turn could make the use of composite materials for production more favorable.
NHL Stenden students Sybren Algra, Henk Labordus, Johannes Braaksma, and Tristan Goudswaard used 3D
printing of a scale model of the NHL solar boat as their objective for this research. This objective
included choice of materials, mold quality, and the financial perspective.

Research
To research the possibilities for composite production using a 3D printed mold, different sub
questions were investigated in the preliminary stage:
How does the current infusion process regarding composite production work?
What is currently available in 3D printed molds?
Which parameters influence printing by 3D printer?
What different types of resin are available?
How can the mold be produced as dimensionally stable as possible?
Is it possible to achieve a smooth enough finish to enable easy demolding and meet quality
standards?
What release agent can be used?
Which resins can be used in combination with the materials of the mold?
What level of recyclability can be achieved with the test case?
What material is most suitable for producing a 3D printed mold for this purpose?

A detailed plan of action can be found here.

The material which is going to be used has to be suitable for the use with composite materials. After
testing various materials for suitability, PET-G was deemed best for this purpose since it was most
resistant to higher temperatures, different loads and chemical influences. After researching the
correct printer settings and printing the first test samples, the 3D printed PET-G mold was then
submitted to various tests including demolding.

A full research report including images, data and conclusions and recommendations can be found
here.

This research was expanded on by NHL Stenden student Eelke Veeninga who looked into the possibilities of
upscaling the 3D printing process to accommodate the market’s demands, by using a robotic arm for
printing. Find out more about his project here.