Synergy in Steel: Plasma Meets 3D Printing

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Synopsis

Metalworking often involves a mix of old and new methods. This article details how the use of plasma cutting and 3D printing can work together to simplify the bending of thick steel sheets. The approach offers an innovative solution for crafting intricate metal parts efficiently.

Article

The art of metalworking has always been a blend of various techniques such as forging, welding, and milling. The introduction of modern tools like CNC plasma cutters doesn't eliminate the need for traditional methods; it merely adds another layer of capability. This duality of old and new was evident when a craftsman named Tony was tasked with creating brackets for an electric trike for the upcoming EMF Camp.

Tony faced a challenge due to the 4 mm thickness of the plate steel he was using, which was too thick for his press brake. The solution he devised was ingenious. Using a plasma cutter at reduced power, Tony created a partial-thickness groove across the steel blank. This groove acted as a guide for the press brake's tooling.

However, problems arose when more complex bends were needed, requiring grooves on both sides of the steel plate. Tony's answer to this was to 3D print a set of sacrificial guide blocks. These blocks fit into the bed of the press brake and had ridges that matched up with the guide grooves. Although these 3D printed blocks were destroyed during the process, they served their purpose well and were quick to print.

The only drawback was a small tear in the steel when the groove ended up on the outer radius of the bend. This was easily fixed with a bit of welding. For Tony, as long as it was "good enough for EMF," it was good enough overall.

As seen in the accompanying video, Tony's CNC plasma cutter has a SCARA-like design that adds to the fascination. While this is not the first time 3D printing has been employed in metalworking, the project does offer valuable lessons and tips for those looking to combine different fabrication techniques.

Conclusion

The integration of plasma cutting and 3D printing proves to be a resourceful way to tackle the challenges of bending thick steel plates. Though the method is not without its small hurdles, the ease of implementation and the efficiency it offers make it a technique worth considering for various metalworking projects.

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