Sheet metal forming is one of the most important technologies in the manufacturing industry, yet until recently, major advancements in the actual technology were minimal. Die casting made its debut in the 1800s and an early version of hydroforming was first patented in the 1930s. Hydroforming as we know it was patented over 60 years ago, in 1955, by Fred Leuthesser, Jr. and John Fox.
Hydroforming, in particular, has become a mainstay in a number of industries including the automotive, household appliance, medical, and aerospace sectors. Now, let’s pause for a moment and consider how much automotive technology has changed since the days when finned and chromed Chevrolets powered by naturally aspirated V8s dominated the streets. And consider this: NASA, which was founded in 1958, didn’t even exist when these metal forming pioneers were filing their patents!
Although technology and consumer tastes have evolved dramatically over the centuries, metal forming, until very recently, had not. That all changed, however, with the 2000 invention of FluidForming.
The FluidForming technology, which is a modern reinvention of hydroforming, was first patented in Germany and was developed to fill the market gap for a higher quality, more accurate, faster, intrinsically repeatable, and affordable metal forming process. This modern, bladder free take on traditional hydroforming utilizes water pressures up to 4000 bar/60,000 psi and achieves a greater degree of detail, strength, and repeatability than legacy methods. FluidForming is changing metal forming and industrial manufacturing.
The technology’s inventor, Reinhold Wesselmann, developed the FluidForming process and metal forming equipment to address current trends in the metalworking industry such as sustainability, additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and cost reduction.
Unlike legacy die casting which notoriously produces harmful emissions, poisonous gases, dust, and waste pollutants, or legacy hydroforming which relies on costly and harmful hydraulic oils, the FluidForming technology is inherently green. Instead of oil, FluidForming relies on highly pressurized recycled tap water as its forming liquid. Other environmental benefits include:
- Low energy consumption
- Low noise operation
- Overall material waste reduction
- Lower part weights (which results in better mileage, for example)
- Replacing environmentally harmful foundry cast or plastic parts with metal
- Rejected waste heat can be recovered and recycled
- Lower operational costs
New additive manufacturing (AM) technology is breaking down barriers to metal printed parts and the manufacturing and metal forming industries are rushing to find ways to embrace AM. In fact, researchers are predicting a tenfold increase in AM-produced metal products by 2021 (BCC Research). Production volume, however, remains limited. In most instances, it takes an entire machine to produce a single part over the printing cycle, which may take days.
The FormBalancer, which can produce several components simultaneously within moments, readily accepts AM printed tools made from plastics, graphite, or metal. FluidForming fills the huge gap between a single part-per-day machine and die stamping’s thousands of parts-per-day by allowing the production of hundreds of parts per day with almost the same lead time as AM.
FluidForming enables innovation. Because of the rapid prototyping capabilities, designers and engineers are free to think creatively and to innovate on the fly. It’s the ideal solution for product development, rapid prototyping, and low-volume fabrication. Companies that utilize the FluidForming technology benefit from vastly reduced lead times and low tooling costs; which results in fast product development cycles. Thanks to advancements in 3D print tooling, it’s possible to move from ideation to CAD to production in days, rather than months. Design iterations and optimization of design/function is readily achievable, affordable, and accommodated within tight timeframes to market.
Learn more about current trends in metal forming and find out if this enabling technology is right for your next project, contact FluidForming Americas today at (800) 497-3545 or email us at email@example.com.