The Potential of 3D Printing in the Manufacturing Realm

3D printing is revolutionising the way things are made. It changes the fundamentals in making parts, and the manufacturing world we live in. What emerged in the late 1980s as Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology, a faster and more cost-effective method for creating prototypes, has evolved into a globally adopted manufacturing solution 3D printing, offering countless applications to businesses in various sectors.

Among many and varied 3D printing applications, Digital Manufacturing is establishing itself as a commonplace in manufacturing processes. Regardless of the industry you are in, Digital Manufacturing complements conventional fabrication methods by reducing production lead time and costs while bringing better products to market faster.

Be it flame-retardant end-use parts for NASA Mars rovers in the aerospace industry, customized assembly hand-tools for BMW in the automotive industry or printing prosthetics or bio-compatible surgical tools for operations in the medical industry, 3D printing is changing the manufacturing landscape across the board.

Digital Manufacturing reduces investment significantly on toolings, speeds up production cycle and hence time to market, pushes design boundaries and enables mass customization of parts – a game-changer at a time when Australian manufacturers are under pressure to cut costs while increasing productivity.

Within the Digital Manufacturing spectrum, injection molding is making headway thanks to its ability to create parts in low volumes with final materials such as ABS and PC, ready to be assembled in final production stage.

3D Printed Injection Molds

Injection molding is a process in which the final production material is fed (or injected) into a mold cavity and is configured into the shape of the mold as the material cools and hardens. Traditional injection molds, as well as injection molded prototypes, are often costly as they require heavy tooling methods such as CNC milling or electrical discharge machining. Even minor design flaws will result in extended production time and extra costs.

3D printed injection molds create prototypes onsite in just hours, from mold design to final test product, using the standard plastic injection molding process and production materials for accurate functional testing. This technology is especially beneficial to designers and engineers for testing design, form, fit and product functionality before mass production. If the testing reveals the need of design improvement, designers or engineers can simply modify the mold design using CAD software and 3D print the refined mold in a few hours at minimal cost.

With the use of 3D printing, designers and engineers can test their work more frequently and proceed to production with more confidence. Similarly, this technology can assist product managers to launch more reliable and accurate products faster.

Diversified Plastics created a 3D printed mold that was used to injection mold a new product prototype from final production material for their customer, Coloplast. As a result, they were able to save 4 weeks of production lead time and $11,500 in cost as compared to their previous use of metal molds— a saving of 80% and 88% respectively.

For more information on applying Stratasys’ PolyJetTM 3D printing technology into injection molding, watch this video.