The two-year project, named DigiTool, is part funded by Innovate UK and worth £1.2million – one of the biggest investments of its kind within the sector for over 40 years. Designed to combat the high costs associated with die replacement and repair, the project seeks to extend lifespan and improve functional performance.

Project partners, all from the advanced manufacturing space, include Toolroom Technology Limited (TTL), Applied Tech Systems (ATS), Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT), INSPHERE Ltd and Kimber Mills International. They aim to provide organisations of all sizes with the capability to remanufacture worn or damaged dies by helping them embrace additive manufacturing, adaptive machining and industry 4.0.

Using new technologies and processes to remanufacture worn dies instead of replacing them will help firms save on costs and materials, while also boosting sustainability. The consortium is currently exploring additive manufacturing and adaptive solutions for remanufacturing the damaged areas on dies using a retrofitted legacy machine tool. Scanning and metrology is used to discover worn areas, before employing additive manufacturing techniques, such as laser metal deposition, to complete the remanufacture back to the desired die form.

Designed for easy integration within one digital platform, the DigiTool framework aims to provide an affordable solution for SMEs looking to adopt new technologies without purchasing a brand-new machine.

Toolroom Technology Limited (TTL) is leading the project. The AFRC is heading up all areas of additive manufacturing, while the other partners are delivering research on their respective areas of expertise, including metrology and scanning, adaptive machining and digital integration. The new manufacturing methods will be combined on one platform at AFRC, using its recently installed LMD Hybrid Machine, which integrates additive manufacturing with machining. Initial project trials have already been carried out and the partners are currently analysing a die for a railway application from Kimber Mills, with plans to remanufacture and bring worn dies back into service.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Machining and Additive Manufacturing Team Lead at the AFRC, said: “The consortium is all bringing different areas of expertise to the project, which is hoped to enhance competition across the industry through the uptake of innovation and new technology. Investment has been slow across the tool and die sector, which has made it difficult for organisations with limited resources to rethink their manufacturing process. Through our additive manufacturing digital framework, we’ll provide these companies with access to new research, technology and insight at a low cost.

“Many firms within the sector may already have a machine that can be retrofitted to integrate laser metal deposition, allowing them to upgrade current assets and save the costs of purchasing a brand-new machine.”

Robin Wilson, Innovation Lead & Catapult Relationship Manager, Manufacturing at Innovate UK said: “This is a forward thinking project that can bring real benefits to the tool and die industry, helping traditional manufacturing businesses to embrace cutting edge digital technologies to boost efficiency and sustainability. The area of remanufacturing is a truly exciting one and we are delighted to support DigiTool and the diverse range of partners that are involved. We look forward to charting its progress. “