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Cutting Tooling Costs with 3D Printing for Press Brake Tooling

About Centerline

Centerline Engineered Solutions (CES) is a contract engineering and fabrication business in Greenwood, South Carolina. It can trace its history back 30 years to serving as a manufacturer for the textile industry, and has expanded into servicing the electrical industry and consumer product manufacturers. Phil Vickery, President at CES, started at the company about a year ago. Born and raised in South Carolina, Phil went to college in the area, raised his family in the area, and took the helm of a business not far from his home. Phil emphasizes quality, efficiency, and the trust of his employees and clients above all else.

As a job shop, the success of Phil's business hinges on two drivers: his ability to offer affordable services that still turn him a profit and his ability to cultivate loyalty with his clientele. Unfortunately, satisfying one of these sometimes directly contradicts the other. He's had to turn down potential jobs simply because the customer’s budget could not cover the tooling and fixturing costs required to make the parts. On low-volume parts particularly, the company struggled to find affordable tooling solutions for its products. With the company’s motto “Don’t be awesome” in his mind, Phil knew he needed to look into alternative options. It was this mentality that led him to the Mark Two.

The Mark Two Shines in its First Test

Phil originally viewed 3D printing as a method to make looks-like prototypes, but was excited to push the boundaries of a 3D printer's place in the machine shop. He found the perfect project to test its strengths within a month of purchasing the Mark Two. A customer needed two of a relatively simple formed part, and the cost that they were willing to pay for the parts was far below that of the press brake tooling required to fabricate them. In an effort to save the prospective job, Phil decided to try printing the forming fixtures.

The customer part is a lanced and formed 14 gage stainless steel piece. After a laser cutter creates four formable regions, a press brake equipped with a custom punch and die lances these regions outward. The forming must be precise, and cannot be accomplished by hand or with a jury-rigged fixture. To ensure that his 3D printed punch and die would not yield during the forming process, Phil paused the print midway and inserted 14 gage steel inserts into the printed part. These inserts reinforced the critical forming features of his die without increasing the manufacturing complexity.

Steel inserts for 3D printed parts
A cutaway view shows the steel inserts inside the fixtures and the part in forming configuration

Phil immediately attached his printed tooling to his Trumpf press brake and to his delight, successfully lanced his customer part. Not only did the printed tooling not break, but it also reached customer forming depth specifications.

Printed tooling parts
The formed parts with the printed tooling

A New Age of Tooling

The Mark Two has allowed CES engineers to become more precise and efficient with their tools and fixtures at a fraction of the previous cost. "I can now take a CAD drawing and print it out and say, ‘Here’s the fixture’ within half the time it took to make it in the previous methods,” said Phil. While Phil initially thought that a 3D printer would only be good for prototyping, he now realizes that his Markforged printer is capable of creating durable parts for the manufacturing floor. Printing tooling with his Mark Two has allowed Phil to accept and complete more jobs profitably, improving his relationships with customers without affecting his bottom line.

Machinist holding finished 3D printed part
‍A machinist from Centerline ES holds the finished formed part

Phil's engineers and machinists were originally skeptical about the everyday value of 3D printers. However, they bought into the technology once Phil proved that they could spend less time machining fixtures and more time making parts. Now, Phil’s employees approach him with ideas of parts they can print instead of machine. The employees trust Phil to look into solutions that make their lives better, and he’s demonstrated that through the addition of the Mark Two. With Markforged, Centerline can be less average and more awesome.

Want to learn more about the Centerline Story? Check out this Case Study.

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Webinar from CES president Phil Vickery discussing industrial 3D printing and productivity.

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