"Large 3D panels are used on the bodies of cars, trains, ships and aircraft and for building interiors and facades. The
Beijing Olympic Bird's Nest Stadium provides a high-profile example of a construction employing 3D panels. The world
market for large 3D panels is worth billions of pounds and could grow manifold if cost-effective and sustainable methods of
panel production are available.
UK companies invest billions of pounds annually in dedicated tooling to manufacture 3D panels in a variety of materials.
The dies and moulds needed to produce such panels are time consuming to fabricate, involving extensive manufacturing trials. Tools are normally associated with specific parts and, when they change, the old tools are discarded or have to be
dismounted and then stored. Thus, there are high levels of scrapped material, space and time wastage associated with
traditional tools. This makes current panel production techniques inefficient for small-batch production which is typical in
the manufacture of high-value products (e.g. sports cars, ships and aircraft).
Multi-Point Die Forming (MPDF) is a technology pioneered at MIT to enable die surfaces to be modified to generate
different component forms without requiring tool changes. MPDF involves using a matrix of pins to represent the die
surfaces. These can be varied before the forming operation by pre-adjusting the lengths of the pins. The setting of the pin
lengths in existing MPDF systems is a laborious trial-and-error process and thus these systems are not readily
This project will develop the world's first fully reconfigurable tooling system with in-process sensing and adaptation
capability. This advanced system will incorporate pins that are actuated so that their lengths can be automatically adjusted
during forming to enable more precise control of the process. It will include sensors and on-line modelling, metrology and
reverse engineering to ensure the production of accurate and defect-free panels. This new system will be usable for press
stamping and stretch-drawing operations as well as supporting and locating flexible composite panels during assembly.
The proposed system will have the following innovative features not found in prototypes developed to date:
- full programmability, in the in-process reconfiguration of the tool to generate tool surfaces digitally and to enable different
forming operations to be carried out;
- advanced modelling to support reconfiguration to increase quality and setup efficiency;
- on-line metrology to provide in-process information on real part geometry, considering machine and tool deflection and
part spring back;
- compensation of spring back and deflection to enable net-shape manufacturing;
- measures for ensuring part integrity including accurate geometry, limited residual stresses and high quality surface finish;
- localised heating to allow forming of various materials including composites.
The reconfigurable tooling system developed in the project will demonstrate the following benefits compared to current
- an increase in 3D panel manufacturing efficiency by 50%-100%;
- panel manufacturing cost savings of up to 90%;
- overall material and energy savings of 30%-50% over the product life-cycle.
This project will be carried out in the Schools of Mechanical Engineering and of Metallurgy and Materials at the University
of Birmingham, the Department of Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management at the University of Strathclyde and
three industrial partners with the support of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult and a Knowledge Transfer Network.
This complete chain linking organisations involved in research, equipment design and manufacture, knowledge transfer
and end use ensures the relevance of the work and rapid dissemination and exploitation of the results."
Strathclyde's effort has been focused on two main challenging issues relating to the forming of sheet metal parts, when multi-points tooling is used: prediction of forming limits of the parts to be formed and on-line determination of forming errors, including that caused by springbacks of sheet metals. First one concerns the process and tool design efficiency improvement and reduction of manufacturing trials, and the second relates to the improvement of manufacturing efficiency through on-line error measurement and pin-height adjustment by which net-shapes or near-net-shapes of the formed parts could be achieved. The two years' work has resulted in two main results: (1). a completed numerical model for the simulation of the forming of sheet metals with multi-punches tools, including the tools with cushions, which enables prediction of the forming limit and sprinbacks of sheet-metals; (2). A low-cost on-line inspection system for industrial uses. The system is developed based on using laser pointers and a CCD camera and by developing new software, and the target is for easy industrial implementation and low system-cost. A system has now been built based on 25 very low cost LED laser pointers and a Sony CCD camera. Early trials are very encouraging suggesting a measurement error well under a millimetre over a relatively large area. The laser spot-size is still relatively large and the resolution of the camera could be higher so there is therefore potential for improving measurement accuracy still further. The system developed is matched to the 25 pin-tool being built at Strathclyde and will be tested more fully later in the project.