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Rapid tooling: the state of the art

A. Rosochowski
, A. Matuszak
Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management, University of Strathclyde,
75 Montrose Street, Glasgow G1 1XJ, UK
Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Automation, Technical University of Wroclaw,
ul. Lukasiewicza 3/5, 50-371 Wroclaw, Poland
Producing tooling directly from CAD models is regarded as an important method of reducing the cost and time to market for new
products. This paper describes the role of rapid prototyping technology in increasing the speed of tooling development. A comprehensive
review of examples of rapid tooling indicates a major shift in tooling practice. This new trend in manufacturing based on rapid prototyping
and rapid tooling has already had a dramatic impact on the engineering environment. # 2000 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.
Keywords: Manufacturing methods; Rapid prototyping; Rapid tooling
1. Introduction
New market realities require faster product development
and reduced time to market. They also demand higher
quality, greater efciencies and cost reductions, and an
ability to meet environmental and recycling objectives. Over
the last 1015 years this has resulted in a remarkable
transformation that can be summarized by the concept of
world class manufacturing (WCM). The basic theses of
WCM are as follows: (i) total quality, (ii) concurrent engi-
neering, (iii) short manufacturing lead-times, (iv) exibility
to accommodate rapid changes in product volume and model
mix and (v) all employees are engaged in continuous product
and process improvement. This basic framework is now
accepted by all companies aspiring to be world-class man-
ufacturers [1].
Most objectives of WCM are related to product and
process development. Product development starts from
the creation of a 3D computer model using a CAD system.
At that stage the product geometry is dened and its
aesthetic and dimensional characteristics are veried. This
product and process development can be supported by
suitable CAE programs. These programs cover a wide range
of engineering software for predicting product performance
and for the simulation of manufacturing processes without
the need to produce physical prototypes. Although CAE
programs are intended to ensure that unsuitable designs are
rejected or modied, in many cases a visual and physical
evaluation of the real component is needed. This often
requires prototype tools to be produced.
Creating tooling for prototype and production compo-
nents represents one of the most time consuming and costly
phases in the development of new products. It is particularly
problematic for low-volume products or rapidly changing
high-volume products.
To reduce the product development time and reduce the
cost of manufacturing, the new technology of rapid proto-
typing (RP) has been developed, which offers the potential
to completely revolutionize the process of manufacture. This
technology encompasses a group of manufacturing techni-
ques, in which the shape of the physical part is generated by
adding the material layer-by-layer. Many of these techniques
are based on either the selective solidication of the liquid or
bonding solid particles. Although RP techniques are still in
their development phase, they are considered a major break-
through in production engineering [2].
RP technology allows the production not only of models
and prototypes for visualization purposes, but also of func-
tional parts. This paper describes a new group of RP
applications that covers the production of prototype and
production tooling. These new applications are hereafter
referred to as rapid tooling (RT) techniques.
There now follows a brief introduction to RP technology
and the main RP techniques. The bulk of this article is a
comprehensive review of various RT applications. This will
be concluded with a more general discussion.
Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198
Corresponding author. Fax: 44-41-552-0557
E-mail address: (A. Rosochowski).
0924-0136/00/$ see front matter # 2000 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.
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2. Rapid prototyping
2.1. Preparation of data
Denition of the virtual model is a crucial part of RP
technology. The preparation of data can represent
of the
total cost. Fig. 1 illustrates the ow of data between different
virtual models of the component.
For all RP methods the starting point is a CAD model,
either a 3D solid model or 3D surface model. CAD data can
be created virtually or come directly from 3D sensors (such
as laser, sonic, or optical digitizers), medical imaging data
and any other source of 3D point data. The CAD le
(sometimes in neutral format) is normally converted into
an STL le that is a faceted version of the surface of the
model. Such a model is then ``sliced'' at distances equal to
the layer thickness. Additional information is supplied with
regard to the design of supports (when necessary), the
machine orientation of the workpiece and the scan path
for each layer. The physical object is then created using one
of the many currently available RP systems, a description of
which now follows.
2.2. Rapid prototyping techniques
There are a number of different RP systems, which can
produce both models and functional parts. Most of these
methods can also be used for the manufacturing of prototype
and production tools.
2.2.1. Stereolitography
Stereolitography (SLA) is a method based on photo-
polymerization of liquid monomer resin (Fig. 2). The sur-
face layer of the resin is cured selectively by the laser beam
following the path dened in the slicing model. After this
layer has been created, the movable platform is lowered into
the vat, a new thin layer of liquid monomer oods the model
and the process is repeated.
2.2.2. Solid ground curing
A similar method which uses ultra-violet radiation as the
energy source has been named solid ground curing (SGC). In
this method data from the CAD model are used to produce a
mask, through which the liquid is illuminated and cured.
2.2.3. Selective laser sintering
With the selective laser sintering (SLS) method a thin
layer of nely ground plastic powder is spread onto a
working platform. The laser energy is directed onto the
powder via a scanning system where it causes the powder to
sinter to become a solid. Then the working platform is
lowered, a new covering of powder layer is spread and
the scanning is repeated.
2.2.4. 3D printing
Similar to SLS is the 3D printing method, in which a
binder phase is sprayed selectively onto the powder by
means of ink-jet type printing heads.
2.2.5. Fused deposition modelling
The fused deposition modelling (FDM) machine is an XY
plotter device which carries an extrusion head. The build
material is heated to just above its melting point and
extruded in the areas within the bounds of the part. After
extrusion the material solidies immediately and welds to
the previous layer.
2.2.6. Microcasting
Microcasting is a droplet-based shape deposition manu-
facturing (SDM) process which consists of four processing
stations such as thermal deposition, shot-peening, CNC
milling and cleaning. A plasma arc robot produces discrete
droplets of super-heated metal which fall to the surface and
bond. Shot-peening is used for stress relief and then CNC
milling to obtain the nal form of the layer.
2.2.7. Ballistic particle manufacturing
In a similar process called ballistic particle manufacturing
(BPM), a stream of molten material is ejected from a nozzle;
the material separates into droplets which hit the substrate
and immediately cold weld to form the part.
2.2.8. Laminated object manufacturing
In the laminated object manufacturing (LOM) method the
build material takes the form of a sheet of paper, metal,
plastic or composite. Each layer of the model is proled
from the sheet using a laser. This section is then laid on and
bonded to the previous layer using a hot roller which
activates a heat sensitive adhesive.
Fig. 1. Data transfer between the CAD and the RP system.
Fig. 2. The principle of stereolitography.
192 A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198
2.3. Secondary operations
Prototype models often require further processing
depending on the RP technique used. In many systems
support structures have to be detached from the model. This
is done manually and requires some skill. A powder support
is easier to deal with. Some methods provide only limited
structural integrity, so that the models are subjected to
further curing or sintering, depending on the material used
and its structure. A commonly employed secondary opera-
tion is mechanical or hand nishing to remove the stair-step
surface texture inherent in all RP technologies.
3. Rapid tooling
RTis a natural extension of RP. It originated fromthe need
to assess RP models in terms of their performance. To enable
performance validation, such models (prototypes) must be
produced using the same material and production process as
will be used in full-scale production. Furthermore, to facil-
itate a full range of performance tests, the number of
prototypes required may be relatively large.
Current RP technologies are neither capable of prototyp-
ing in a wide range of commercially available materials nor
well suited to producing large numbers of models. This has
led to the adoption of multi-step procedures involving
various tooling options; such procedures are termed RT.
Thus, RT processes complement the RP options by being
able to provide higher quantities of models in a wider variety
of materials.
The importance of RT, however, goes far beyond com-
ponent performance testing. It is an essential aspect of the
more general issue of rapid product development. Tradi-
tional methods of producing prototypes are usually skill
dependent, expensive and time consuming. This results in a
limited number of design iterations and the possibility of
incurring further costs at the production stage. On the other
hand, it is well known that low-volume products, as well as
rapidly changing high-volume products, require quicker and
cheaper development procedures to be able to compete on
the market. Looking for improvement in this eld, manu-
facturers and tool makers are exploring different RP tech-
niques. It seems that a major shift from normal prototype
tooling practice to RT is underway.
Provided that the tools produced by RT are sufciently
durable, there is also scope for them to be employed in the
production process.
Since the number of RT techniques is increasing, there is a
tendency to classify them into groups. Soft tooling is
compared with hard tooling, indirect tooling with direct
tooling, prototype tooling with production tooling, and so
on. The denitions of these groups are not clear, also the
borders are not well dened and overlap between their
domains is apparent. Despite this, one can suggest a classi-
cation of RT techniques based on practical aspects rather
than on strict denitions (Fig. 3). The following discussion
refers to this classication, concentrating on producing
patterns for the foundry industry, using patterns for soft
and hard tooling, and manufacturing tools directly on RP
3.1. Rapid patterns for casting
Traditional casting of metal parts using RP patterns is not
always regarded as RT but often as rapid manufacturing or
Fig. 3. Classication of RT.
A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198 193
rapid casting. Nevertheless, it is the most popular tooling-
related use of RP with direct consequences in RT.
Regardless of the casting method, the foundry industry
has as its central process the utilization of a physical pattern
to produce moulds into which to cast metal. Although this is
true for both the design and production cycles, it is mainly
the design stage that will benet fromrapid patterns. The use
of RP technologies in the creation of casting patterns allows
a foundry to manufacture a metal part without the use of
tooling for small quantities. It also helps in optimizing the
casting design in terms of process and gating parameters. All
of this reduces the cost and time required to produce
prototype parts. Tooling costs are postponed until full-scale
production and since all modications and improvements
can be made early on, the need to change the tooling whilst
in production is eliminated.
3.1.1. Investment casting
Investment casting is a sacricial pattern casting. Tradi-
tionally, a physical pattern is produced in casting wax and
attached to a wax runner system. Then, it is dipped repeat-
edly into a ceramic slurry and dusted with refractory mate-
rial until the desired mould thickness is obtained in the form
of a self-supporting shell. When ready, the shell is de-waxed
in a steam autoclave and subsequently lled with metal.
Popular prototype systems, such as FDMand SLS (Fig. 4),
are capable of building wax patterns directly. SGC and BPM
are also reported to be able to fabricate wax patterns for
investment casting. Wax patterns are more readily accepted
and accommodated by the traditional foundry industry.
Other systems, such as SLA and LOM, have to use their
own proprietary prototyping materials. The acrylic SLA
parts expand during burn-out and crack the ceramic shell.
To overcome this limitation a ask (solid mould) casting
instead of a shell casting can be used. The latest method is
the QuickCast build style, which eliminates 95% of the
internal mass of a part made of epoxy resin. During burn-out,
the QuickCast pattern collapses before the ceramic shell
becomes overloaded. Additionally, only a small amount of
ash is produced.
The paper patterns of the LOM process also work well
with investment casting. The paper can be burnt out with
little expansion, however, the ash residue may be substantial.
Alternatively to the temperature-sensitive wax patterns,
polycarbonate models produced by SLS can be used (Fig. 5).
The parts build much faster in polycarbonate then the wax
and the clean-up time is reduced. Post nishing is accom-
plished by dipping or coating the part with a wax-based
material to seal the surface. This enables the creation of
patterns with ne features, increased dimensional accuracy
and improved strength. Shell cracking and ash content have
not been major issues.
3.1.2. Sand casting
Traditional sand casting can also benet from RT, which
is used for producing the patterns and core boxes used to
make moulds and cores, respectively.
Avirtual model of the pattern is based on the shape of the
casting with added cores when necessary. This means dis-
regarding internal cavities and designing core prints. Virtual
models are then realized using one of the RP systems. LOM
is fairly popular for this application, since LOMmodels have
the feeling and look of wood, which is a traditional foundry
tooling material.
The same internal cavities and core prints are used to
create CAD models of cores. Such models can either be used
to produce LOM patterns for making cavities in resin core
boxes or, as negatives, to create cavities directly within solid
blocks of LOM material.
3.2. Soft tooling
Soft tooling can be obtained via replication from a
positive pattern or master. The alternative denition is based
on the rigidity and durability of the tooling, where polymeric
tools are referred to as soft tools. Despite some overlap,
these two denitions are not equivalent. Leaving this issue
open for academic discussion, the authors employed the
second denition, which distinguishes soft tooling from
metallic or ceramic hard tooling.
Fig. 4. An investment-cast exhaust manifold for a Chrysler car made from
an SLS wax pattern [3].
Fig. 5. An SLS polycarbonate pattern for the investment casting of a
cylinder head [4].
194 A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198
3.2.1. Silicone moulds
Silicone moulding can be used to produce wax patterns,
and plastic or low-melting-point metal parts. The initial
forming of powder parts is also reported in this context.
If the RP pattern is based on the product alone, the rst
step is to attach a runner to it. A release coating is applied
and a block of silicone rubber is then cast around the
assembly. The cured block is cut along the parting line
and the pattern removed. The silicone mould is so exible
that it can be removed from intricate and undercut shapes
without difculty. The use of silicone tooling is limited to
low pressures, low volume and low temperature production
A popular application is the vacuum casting of prototypes
in a polyurethane material (Fig. 6). Polyurethane can be
formulated with a wide variety of physical properties, which
enables the simulation of many commonly used plastics. The
life of a silicone mould depends largely on the surface nish
of the prototype pattern. In most instances it will reproduce
up to 20 parts with a gradual deterioration of surface quality.
Another process using a silicone mould is spin casting.
Prototype models are laid out on a disk of uncured rubber
which is then vulcanized under pressure. After removing the
masters, gates, runners and air vents are cut into the mould.
During spin casting liquid metal or plastic is poured into the
central feed channel and as the mould is rotated at speed the
centrifugal force lls the mould cavities. The expected life
of a mould varies from 100 to 300 cycles.
3.2.2. Epoxy moulds
Using epoxy moulds is often the fastest way to complete
short runs of functional parts manufactured by injection
First, the positive master, e.g. an SLA, SLS or LOM
model, is buried in clay or plaster up to the parting line.
Alternatively, one can use a prototype model for the rst-half
of the part. After coating the master with a release agent,
epoxy resin is poured into the mould box and cured. The
same procedure is repeated for the second half of the part.
Runners and gates are added to the master prior to casting or
can be machined after casting. Air vents are usually added
during the trials.
The epoxy resin used is usually aluminiumlled to reduce
wear of the tool and improve heat transfer. If necessary,
copper heating coils can be embedded into the resin and
cooling passages machined.
Epoxy tools must be run with low injection and packing
pressures. Depending on the complexity of the part and the
material, the mould life is in the range of 50 to 500 pieces.
For reaction injection moulding (RIM), which is character-
ized by low temperature and pressure, the reported tool life
is in few thousands.
3.3. Hard tooling
3.3.1. Spray metal tooling
Metal spray moulds have been used successfully for low-
pressure processes such as vacuum forming, rotational
moulding and RIM. Recently, due to advances in spray
metals and spraying techniques, it has also been used for
injection moulding.
The sequence of steps is similar to that used to create
epoxy moulds, except that the pattern is rst metal sprayed
and then backed with the metal-lled epoxy resin. Spraying
with, e.g., a compressed air electric gun is continued until
the required thickness of metal shell is obtained (0.55 mm
is reported). The pattern material has to have increased
strength and durability to withstand the thermal impact
inherent in this technique: polycarbonate SLS masters as
well as machinable wax and ABS FDMmasters (Fig. 7) have
been used successfully. SLA models also have been tried
with a protective reecting coating.
The properties of metal spray moulds depend on the metal
used, its structure and the type of support of the metal shell.
The normal tool life is several hundred injection moulded
parts. Very good results have been reported for nickel-spray
tooling. The hardness of a nickel shell (Rockwell hardness
Hc 5058) provides excellent abrasion resistance and the
tool life is adequate for high volume production.
3.3.2. Nickel electroformed tooling
A nickel shell can be obtained by the electrodeposition
process. The mechanical properties of the shell together with
the excellent reproduction of the surface nish have already
led to extensive use of this technique within the aerospace
industry. The only real problem is the time required to
electroform the shell (about 2 weeks for 3 mm). For proto-
type applications the shell thickness could possibly be
Fig. 6. Silicone moulds for vacuum casting [5].
Fig. 7. An ABS FDM prototype of a Fiat automotive part used as the
pattern for spray metal tooling [6].
A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198 195
reduced to 1 mm with rigidity of the tool provided by a good
3.3.3. Cast metal tooling
Tooling for use in injection moulding and die casting can
be produced by investment casting. As was described earlier,
RP technologies can be used to produce sacricial patterns
for investment casting. This time, however, the patterns for
moulds and dies, rather than for components, are required.
Therefore, one has to generate a reverse of the component in
CAD by dividing the component on the split line, dening
the cavity shapes and adding the remainder of the tool
halves. A prototype mould can then be produced on the
RP equipment and used as a pattern for investment casting.
Alternatively, starting from the positive prototype, one
can cast a resin mould and use it as a pattern for the Shaw
process or for the sand casting of the metal mould. In both
cases some machining may be necessary to add missing
features or improve the surface nish.
Tooling can be cast in various metals such as aluminium
and zinc for prototyping purposes (100500 shots) or in tool
steel for high volume production.
3.3.4. Keltool tooling
The process introduced by Keltool involves metal powder
that has been coated with a plastic binder. The powder is
poured into a silicone mould created from a negative pattern
of the component shape. Alternatively, the positive master
can be covered with the powder. Initial heating at 1008C
produces a green part. Final sintering and copper inltration
creates hard tool inserts (Rockwell hardness Rc 3555)
which faithfully copy the original. Keltool inserts made
of tool steel should survive for at least one million shots.
The process is best suited for small parts.
3.4. Direct tooling
Creating tooling directly on RP machines is the ultimate
challenge to RT applications. Most RP methods use rela-
tively soft materials as the building medium and therefore
are not suitable for direct tooling. Nevertheless, many trials
have been run, and now the rst successful applications in
this eld are appearing.
3.4.1. Resin tools
Direct tooling, in the form of SLA epoxy prototypes,
has been used for some time. Solid dies of epoxy resin
have been employed for the injection of wax patterns for
investment casting (Fig. 8). This technique has taken advan-
tage of the 808C glass transition temperature of the epoxy
resin, which is higher than the melting point (50558C) of
many investment waxes. The injection pressure used was
3.5 MPa.
Epoxy dies for injection moulding have also been tried
with different plastics, e.g. polyurethane and polycarbonate.
The number of parts produced from the tools were 100.
3.4.2. Metal powder tools
SLS has the advantage over other RP systems in that it can
process a variety of different powdered materials and espe-
cially metals. This allows metal injection moulds to be
produced directly from CAD data.
The SLS RapidTool process uses iron-based powders
coated with a thermoplastic binder. Consolidation of the
metal powder is achieved by selective melting of the binder.
The green part is then sintered and subsequently inltrated
with a second metal, which results in a fully-dense part.
Polishing and tting into a mould base ends the whole cycle,
which takes about 1 week. Moulds and cores for injection
moulding produced with the RapidTool process have excel-
lent physical properties, yielding quantities of more than
50 000 parts.
An interesting application of direct laser sintering is
producing copper EDM electrodes for injection mould
tooling and forge dies.
3.4.3. Ceramic powder tools
The 3DP direct shell production casting (DSPC) process
produces ceramic moulds for metal casting directly from
CAD design data.
DSPC can be used to produce parts of virtually any shape.
The concept of using a ceramic shell allows negative drafts,
no parting lines and no core prints. A digital model of the
mould, including a gating system and internal cores for
hollow parts, is used directly in the 3DP process. After
printing the entire mould in ceramic powder, it is red and
the unbound powder removed. The resulting mould can be
used to produce parts from any castable alloy.
DSPC is used for prototype and short-production runs. It
is claimed to yield functional metal parts in days instead of
weeks or months (Fig. 9).
3.4.4. Microcast tools
Microcasting, one of the wide variety of SDF processes,
has been shown to be useful for direct tool production. An
injection moulding die for an automotive component, shown
in Fig. 10, has been obtained from low-carbon steel by
microcasting. Typically for the SDF methods, the layer
Fig. 8. A composite epoxy/metal mould for casting wax [7].
196 A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198
thickness was substantial and variable (1.151.49 mm). The
support material was bound steel powder, subsequently
removed by an air/water jet. The reported tensile strength
was 530 MPa.
3.4.5. Laminated metal sheets
The idea of using metal sheets for producing laminated
metal tools assumes the employment of a process similar to
LOM. The problem of bonding technique, however, has to
be resolved to ensure the structural integrity of the nal
3.5. Discussion
The RT techniques described here do not constitute an
exhaustive list. There is a lot of research around the world
into the development of potential new methods. Known
techniques are being improved and used in newapplications.
Some issues, however, remain common whatever the tech-
RP models are based on standard virtual models of the
intended components. However, models designed with tool-
ing in mind should incorporate tool-related features such as
draft, shrinkage allowance, split lines, runners and risers and
features to ensure alignment of tool sections.
The dimensional accuracy of RP models is not a critical
issue as far as the visualization function is concerned. Even
the tment trials may not suffer from limited inaccuracy.
However, in RTapplications any error in the model is copied
in the tool and subsequently conveyed to the manufactured
components. Therefore, the initial dimensional accuracy, as
well as dimensional stability of prototype patterns, should be
considered carefully.
A particular problem with all prototype models is their
relatively poor surface nish, which results from the layered
structure inherent in the building method. In turn, most RT
techniques accurately reproduce the surface details of the
pattern. Since many RT tools tend to be hard and wear
resistant, it is usually easier to ensure the good nish of the
product by improving the nish of the pattern rather than
using secondary nishing operations. Special, sometimes
elaborate, techniques are used to achieve high-quality pat-
RT has been most successful in casting and injection
moulding applications. Its use in metal forming applications
is very limited due to the normally high requirements
regarding surface nish, strength and abrasion resistance
of metal forming tools. One of the few exceptions is cast
resin tools for the prototype sheet metal forming of small
components. Another example is EDM electrodes produced
by RT, which can be used to make forging dies. Improve-
ments in RT techniques, especially those incorporating
powder metallurgy technology, may soon change this pic-
ture, enabling metal forming processes to benet from RTas
casting and injection moulding already do.
With advances in the high-speed CNC-machining of
tools, there is a tendency to treat this as a part of RT. In
the authors' opinion only RP related techniques, with RP
based on adding not removing material, should be referred to
as RT. High-speed machining should be viewed as a com-
peting technology which, e.g. in Japan is favoured over RT.
In some tooling applications, with simpler shapes involved,
CNC-machining may be a viable alternative, and it seems
that in the future these two technologies may become
complementary rather than competing. An interesting recent
example of such synergy is the scanning of a rapid model to
machine a mould cavity.
RP methods are inherently slow, which manifests itself in
the manufacturing time of a single model being measured in
hours. It is even longer when the preparation of CAD data is
included. In RTapplications, however, this compares favour-
ably with the normal procedures of design and manufacture
of prototype tools. It is especially evident for complex
components, which require several design iterations. The
cost of tooling produced by RT methods is also reduced
when compared with traditional machining. Savings of 50%
in time and cost are often reported by companies.
4. Conclusions
Due to the pressure of international competition, new
products must be more quickly and cheaply developed,
manufactured and introduced to the market. The rapid
manufacturing of prototype components, with a view to
Fig. 9. An engine intake manifold made for Ford using DSPC [8].
Fig. 10. A microcast die [9].
A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198 197
assessing aesthetics, ergonomics and tment, has played a
positive role in achieving these goals for some time.
RT, which has evolved from RP, extends the benets of
reduced cost and time to the crucial area of prototype
tooling. There are many techniques already available, with
the most successful applications being in casting and injec-
tion moulding. Direct methods of making tools on RP
machines are being developed. Progress in materials that
can be used for moulds and dies has enabled rst production
tools to be manufactured directly.
Many renowned companies and universities are involved
in the further development and new applications of RT. This
new trend in manufacturing has already had a major inu-
ence on many related engineering activities.
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[5] Oulu Institute of Technology. teknokeskus.otol./rp/english/process/
[6] Stratasys Inc.
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198 A. Rosochowski, A. Matuszak / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 106 (2000) 191198