University of Limerick
Mulkerrins_2021_Investigation.pdf (5.96 MB)

An investigation of cost-effective rapid tooling for fibre reinforced polymer parts using low-cost 3D printing

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posted on 2022-12-20, 15:28 authored by Darragh Mulkerrins
This project investigates the use of low-cost additive manufacturing (AM) with a focus on the fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology to fabricate rapid tooling (RT) required to produce complex shaped fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) parts using liquid composite moulding (LCM) manufacturing techniques. Advanced FRPs such as carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRP) offer very good strength to weight ratios, making them a superior material choice for many engineering challenges. Drawbacks to using these materials can be the low rate of production and the need for expensive tooling. The literature review shows that AM can be used to reduce tooling costs, however the use of AM is not commonplace in the composite industry yet, due to the financial barriers and use case uncertainty in adopting such a technology. Much of the literature surrounding the use of AM as a FRP manufacturing solution makes use of expensive AM machines. This work presents evidence that this does not need to be the case, and that less expensive AM machines can be used to allow composite manufacturers to get some of the advantages of AM for tooling without the risky investment in machinery. This research documents the fabrication of mould tooling in three case studies that provide design guidelines and process chain. Each case study aims to provide an example of how FFF can be used to produce various forms of tooling in LCM applications. A directly printed tooling approach is adopted in the first case study for bespoke manufacturing, short series production or prototyping of composites. The second case study provides a method of fabricating a tooling plug from which a traditional composite mould is manufactured. A sacrificial tool is produced in case study three, this kind of tooling overcomes unique manufacturing challenges that are presented when producing complex shaped hollow composites. The case studies provide design guidelines and practical tips from which conclusions are extracted. This work provides evidence that the FFF technology is a viable and cost-effective RT solution for LCM applications.



  • Faculty of Science and Engineering


  • Master (Research)

First supervisor

Sheahan, Con





Department or School

  • School of Engineering

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