3D Printing has long been discussed as a potential alternative to injection molding. And there are many advantages to the technology that make that the case from a design perspective.
But injection molding is generally considered to be a less expensive option at scale. That is because when hundreds of thousands of parts are being produced the cost of the parts is so low and the cost of the mold is easily amortized across all of those parts. So if you can take the upfront cost, injection molding can be cheaper than 3D Printing.
But that is only at the manufacturing stage. There are so many other factors in the supply chain that contribute to the cost of a product. And really 3D Printing is arguably less expansive than injection molding when you take all of those other factors into account. There is the upstream design and iteration that is quicker and cheaper. And there is the downstream assembly and warehousing that can be substantially reduced.
Injection molding is only ideal if you are making millions of parts and can afford to build and maintain that inventory. In all other instances 3D Printing should be an option when choosing manufacturing methods.
So let's go through all the reasons 3D Printing is a cheaper alternative than injection molding.
Quicker Design Turn Around
As soon as you have created a product you are competing. Speed can make the difference between a successful launch or having to wait a full year until the next Christmas Season.
With traditional manufacturing designers have to develop prototypes with a number of methods. They may go from cardboard, to 3d prints, to machined plastic, to aluminum molds all trying to get closer to the final product. There can be weeks between iterations. But that refinement is necessary and expensive. Salaries have to be paid while waiting and the various steps are not cheap.
With 3D printing the prototype is the production version. Iterations can happen in days, if not hours. Which means that new products can go from concept to creation much more quickly.
It is not unreasonable for 3D printed products go from a napkin sketch to a finished product for less than 1/10th the cost of traditional methods. With 3D Printing Physical product design is able to adapt a lean mentality similar to software design.
Never Stuck with a Bad/Flawed Design
In the past, if you created a product, you would purchase a mold and the first few thousand units of your product. If that product was unsuccessful you can go through all of that expense again, to modify your molds, or you would go out of business. Because you can't sell what you have.
3D Printing eliminates this risk. There is no longer the requirement of only home run or striking out. 3D Printing can create products on demand. Which mean that inventors can literally just make the design then print and sell a few (or none) and then iterate and scale up. The product is able to evolve with the market, rather than being "make or break."
While it is true that print-on-demand is more expensive per part than injection molding, the risk is so much less. It is the difference between successfully starting with a small profit or risking everything for a larger profit.
No Molding Costs
This has already been discussed tangentially. But it is important to bring up.
Very few products are produced by the millions. More and more niche products are being created, which require molds. that will only sell several thousand. Without millions of parts to amortize the molding costs this up front expenditure can be significant. It is one of the main contributing factors in the high cost of medical equipment.
This is also especially true for multi-part product. A robot toy or a building kit could require several molds. Each mold requiring between $1000-$10000 up front before the first product is made. This is a large risk for a new company. (Especially when molds sometimes can't be moved from their company/country of manufacture as needs change)
Since 3D Printing does not use molds of any type that entire up front cost is avoided.
Additionally, at very high volumes production 3D Printing can meet the same per-part cost as injection molding, just without the up front mold cost. This is achieved with good design and actual large volumes. 3D Printing is not limited to your first 1000 pieces. Not even close.
No Warehousing Cost
Whenever you manufacture a product you have to store it. You might have containers crossing the ocean. Then you have warehouses and distribution centers. All charging fee for the square footage occupied by your product.
Depending on how long you are storing your product warehousing can account for anywhere from 5-20% of the total cost of the product.
3D Printing reduces the volumes that need to be stored. You don't have to store millions for years, you can just store the few thousand for that month. Then the product can be replenished on demand. This is exceptionally valuable in the area of spare parts. Automotive companies will store thousands of parts for the useful life of a car model (usually about 15-20 years). 3D Printing could eliminate those decades of waste and simply produce the parts as needed. (And in perpetuity)
For some products it is possible to eliminate the warehouse all together and just produce the customer's order when it is made. This is what we achieving with Angled.io. A Print on demand service for physical products. This lets designers simply upload a 3D model and then they never have to deal with warehousing, or any other part of the manufacturing process.
Less Waste/Lost Inventory
In 2019 it was reported that an amazon fulfillment center sent several hundred thousand unsold items to a landfill. Each year millions of unsold toys are scrapped after Christmas. Companies must overproduce cheap plastic items to ensure that demand does not outstrip supply when a the new Star Wars movie hits.
But all of that waste adds to the cost of the product. In our experience, about 3-5% of inventory is unsold and must be thrown out in order to make room for new versions.
Again, since 3D printing is able to perfectly match demand. There is no waste. A product does not have to be made until it is sold. 3D Printing can eliminate the tons of plastic waste and the cost associated with it, because it does not overproduce.
There is also the secondary benefit of 3D Printing being an additive process, so there is less waste when a part is created. But that is entirely dependent upon the part in questions.
Lower Assembly Costs
If you are manufacturing a relatively complex design, to mold it it will have to be broken into several pieces. And therefore several molds. Once those pieces leave the molder they will have to go to assembly when additional screws and labor will be added to the parts to put them back into the final shape the design calls for. Why not just make the fully assembled plastic part in one go? Injection molding can't do that. It has to be broken up. That is not the case with 3D Printing
There is nearly complete freedom of geometry with 3D Printed plastic parts. Which means that you can design very complex pieces. Pieces that can't be molded. This means that you can combine sections of an assembly into a single part. This eliminated later assembly and also reduced the chances of failure in the part from incorrect assembly.
In short the product is cheaper to make because several molds have been reduced to none. And the cost of assembly is less since there is less-none needed.
3D Printing reduces a great deal of the cost down-stream from the production process.
3D Printing at Scale is Not Expensive
It is often considered that 3D Printing is an expensive process. This is because historically 3D Printing was limited to prototyping. That low rate of production requires high costs.
But 3D Printing is not expensive. At Slant 3D we regularly produce parts with a per-piece cost of far less than $1. And logically this makes sense. 3D Printing just requires electricity and plastic to work. Those raw materials are not expensive. Therefore there is no reason that it can't operate at the same price tier as injection molding.
Organizations with the efficiency to implement 3D Printing at scale are rarer. That is why it is not common for manufacturing industry professionals to consider it as a viable alternative to injection molding. But on a cost basis it is. Even without all the other advantages of 3D Printing. Today additive can produce products at the same per-part cost as injection molding.
3D Printing is not an expensive alternative to injection molding. It is simply an alternative, and in fact often a cheaper one. An alternative that is often overlooked because it is new not well understood. Hopefully it is clearer now that the value in a manufacturing process is not just when the plastic part comes off the machine. But in all the ways a new process can reduce costs in the rest of the supply chain that part travels along. 3D Printing provides tremendous value all the way along. And it is not expensive when the part comes off the machine either.
"Making Products" has released its first episodes. Hosted by our Founder Gabe Bentz "Making Products" covers the ins and outs of designing, manufacturing, and selling a new product. Episodes are posted weekly on Wednesdays.
In this first episode "Working with Manufacturers," Gabe discusses how to find, and interact with manufacturers. Covering everything from NDA's to payment methods.
If there is one key takeaway from the episode it is 'Respect the Manufacturer." They have been doing their work for a long time and will do their best to help you with your product. If you are successful they are successful. But all too often inventors are difficult to work with, needing extra interaction and not knowing what they actually want.
Inventors need to understand their product and their goals before reaching out to manufacturers. Once that is clear it is easier to communicate it and contract out the production of your product.
Check Spotify and all other podcasting platforms for new episdoes of "Making Products" each week.
Slant 3D was a company that was started to make manufacturing more accessible. By using fleets of 3D Printers rather than monolithic injection molding machines we have been able to eliminate the startup cost for new products, and the traditional minimum volumes needed to reduce production cost.
A disposable item no longer needs to sell millions in order to be sold as a disposable item. 3D Printing is able to mass produce disposable products economically. A great example of a product taking advantage of this new paradigm is the Blue Boa suction tube.
The Blue Boa is a product created by Dental Rat, which is a local company in Slant 3D's home town of Boise, Idaho.
Slant 3D was originally approached by Becky Logue of Dental Rat in 2019 for creation of prototypes and design work on the Blue Boa. Our engineers created the ergonomic design by working with Logue and sourcing her experience in the dental field.
When it came time for production, the cost of injection molding such a complex ergonomic design was prohibitive for the brand new product. But when quoted the cost for producing several thousand of the units with 3D Printing, the business case became apparent.
While the unit cost was slightly higher than molding, the overall capital outlay was far less, since there was no mold. That allowed the parts to pay for themselves almost immediately just from cash-flow. And the resulting parts were still very cost effective.
Addtionally, Slant 3D was able to manufacture the suction tubes with compostable cornstarch-based plastic so the disposable plastic pieces would not contribute to the global plastic waste problem.
One final advantage of 3D Printing was the fact that once the products started to sell and feedback from actual customers came in Logue was able to send design modifications to Slant 3D. Those changes would then be implemented in all subsequent production of parts with no additional cost beyond the design work. We are basically able to push an update for the hardware parts the way an app updates on a smartphone.
The Blue Boa is a great example of a product that was able to go from concept to full scale production very quickly and affordably. If large scale 3D printing was not available it is possible that the product would have been put on hold for some time. The flexibility of 3D Printing allows the design to continue to evolve. And supply can perfectly match demand. There is no excess inventory and it is all made in the USA so that the supply chain is reliable, even with a pandemic on.
We Started Making Millions of Parts
For the last 3 years Slant 3D has been on a mission. A Mission to make manufacturing more accessible and flexible. Starting out we focused on Large Scale production of 3D Printed Parts. Manufacturing literally millions of Plastic Pieces in our 3D Printing Farm. With the construction of Print Farm Beta that goal has been reached.
But the problem is that volume is still required to really get the cost down. We eliminated the cost of molds but not the cost of setup and benefits of scale.
We have to make is possible for a Single Part Print to be made at the same unit cost as a piece from a batch of 1 Million. A Brand new print for a dollar.
Then We Made Angled.io
Angled is the next step in this process.
Angled will allow designers, creators, and entrepreneurs to just upload a 3D model and the physical product will immediately be available to anyone in the world. When a customer orders the product, Slant 3D will print it, pack it, and ship it to the customer. All with the part costing the same as any normal off-the-shelf product. We are replacing warehouses with 3D Printers. Right Now
This means that it is completely free to create a physical product. It is as easy to make and distribute a physical product as to make an app or write a blog post. You create the digital version, and then the Slant 3D manufacturing server farm, delivers it to those that "download" it.
Angled is starting by partnering with youtubers and 3D designers from around the world. As well as releasing internal products that we have developed, such as the BagClamp. All of this is to populate a marketplace with real-world products that normal people can use and enjoy.
We are not making 3D Printed stuff. We are just making stuff. And behind the curtain we use 3D Printers because we have to.
We hope that this new marketplace and this new piece of infrastructure will make it possible for millions of new products to be created that could never have been created before. Historically he cost has been two high and the knowledge spread too thin. We have eliminated those barriers.
Submit your product to Angled.io.
Mars has the largest canyon in the solar system. Valles Marineris is 4 times deeper than the grand canyon and wider than the United States.
At Slant 3D we are continually working to show how products can be mass manufactured with 3D Printing. Part of this is to create the products and put them into the Market.
We are also all space buffs. So when the newest project came through we all wanted to do something about Mars. So we were able to obtain NASA data of the red planet and convert it into 3D topographical Models. 3 different sizes of these maps can now be purchased through Kickstarter for the next month.
Though this can be done with anything. Topographcial data for any part of the earth can be readily obtained. And with Slant 3D production capacities it can be converted into 3D models just like the Maps of Mars.
The clearest application of this is in maps of tourist locations. We could create minatures of Mt. St. Helens or the Grand Canyon. We can outline the topography where towns are built. And all of these can be produced at any scale and at any time to meet demand.
If you are interested in having Topographical maps made for your business please reach out. One of our engineers will be be in touch.
The Main AC Unit of the Tesla Model Y Utilizes an FDM 3D Printed Part in order to compensate for a mold limitation and ensure production is not stalled.
Munro and Associates has been breaking down one of the first Model Y's during quarantine. They recently released a video of the initial breakdown of the HVAC system of the Model Y. The main unit is composed of multiple large Injection molded pieces. But as it turns out there is also a 3D Printed component as part of the assembly.
The Reason for the 3D Printed part is unclear. Though it is likely to ensure production continues uninterupted. The HVAC housing is an exceptionally large molded part. The cost and time of of manufacturing are huge, even by injection molding standards. It would not be unsurprising if the mold for this part required 6-8 weeks to produce and cost as much as 250-500,000 dollars. That is a huge production delay, especially for the frenetic pace that Tesla Operates at.
The 3D Printed part was likely added in order to create an efficient manufacturing process until the next iteration of the mold was complete. Tesla is able to drill a hole precisely in the molded part and then fuse in the 3D Printed part. This is a quick and perfectly viable solution to keep production running until the port hole is integrated into the new HVAC mold design.
Since Tesla is only producing about 1000 Model Y's per week is is not difficult for the 3D printing to keep pace. Though it is clear that the part is printed at a very low resolution. And it is also likely that the 3D Printed part is cropped directly from the Version 2 mold design, because its design is not optimized for 3D Printing at all and fits in with the current molded piece like a chunk of a puzzle.
If Tesla were to outsource production of these types of parts to a service like Slant 3D they could be produced much more quickly and with much better properties than the part shown in the video. Slant 3D produces 10,000's of plastic parts every week for all types of markets and with engineering grade materials.
But it is great to see that FDM printed parts are proving thier viability in such great automobiles as the Tesla Model Y. We hope to see more 3D Printed parts in the future, as not as solutions to a design flaw, but as the ultimate end part.
If you have a need for 3D Printed parts as an alternative to injection molding, or to rapidly address supply issues. Please reach out with a 3D model of your part.
Manufacturing a Product for the Cost of a Website.
At Slant 3D we are working to make it as simple and affordable to create a physical product as to create a website.
If you want to make a website or an app all you have to do is spend $25 per month to host it and then spend a weekend writing or coding. You now have a platform that can become worth billions of dollars. (Seriously this is all it took to start facebook)
Actual manufacturing is not like that. Inventors have to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to get started. That is because they literally have to build a factory and supply chain for each new product. And they have to do all of that with Scratch.
The reason websites are cheap and manufacturing is expensive is because websites are built on top of infrastructure that already exists. Manufacturing has to rebuild that infrastructure everytime. Facebook just had to be posted on the the internet, a fidget spinner had to be built, packed, and shipped each time one is ordered. 3D Printing provides that infrastructure
Large scale 3D Printing with 3D Printing farms allow inventors to create a new product and post it online, just like a website. Then when it is purchased it is made. There is no cost of injection molding, and no cost of warehousing. Using Slant 3D fulfillment there is not even the effort of shipping the product. This means that new ideas can be tried for free and if they are successful then the inventor can really make a career or company out of it.
We are demonstrating this with the BagClamp.
The BagClamp is a simple consumer product. Something you would pick up off a shelf at a Walmart for a couple of dollars. But unlike all of those products, which used tens of thousands of dollars to be made, the BagClamp is entirely digitally manufactured. And it cost only the time to create it.
The BagClamp was designed in 2 days at Slant 3D. It was conceived prototyped and prepped for production in 2 days. That is light-years faster than normal product design. But we did something very interesting. We didn't create it and then make 1000's hoping they would sell. We made 10, for a few dollars apiece, and are now testing it on Kickstarter with a small campaign. The kickstarter proves that the product is a good one. With nearly 2000 units presold on Kickstarter it is worth putting it into production. And that production is already paid for with preorders. So the product has been created and put into production almost for free, just like a website.
But what is really interesting is that we will be mass manufacturing the first 100,000 BagClamps within our 3D Printing facility in Boise, Idaho. And we will do it profitably.
There are few single products that have been mass manufactured with 3D Printing. Carbon 3D and Adidas have manufactured almost 100,000 sets of $400 dollar 3D Printed shoes. Etsy stores make custom cookie cutters for $25 dollars apiece. "3D Printed Products just don't cost $2 and are mass manufactured." But actually they are.
3D Printing has only the cost of material and electricity. Based on that is should be the same cost as injection molding. It hasn't been because 3D Printing has always required a huge amount of human labor.
At Slant 3D we have created entirely automated 3D Printing factories. Hundred of 3D Printers working for weeks on end without human touch just producing parts. This lets plastic products, like the BagClamp be produced very cheaply and at scale.
Help us show the world that 3D Printing is ready for mass manufacturing. Get a BagClamp for yourself. Or if you or your company needs help manufacturing plastic parts without the cost of molds, reach out to us for a free quote and design review. Today it is as easy to get a product manufactured as it is to start a website.
The Pandemic Stopped Distribution
2020 started fairly normally in manufacturing. If you were sourcing items from china you put in your orders before the Chinese New Year shut down the country for several weeks.
But then news of coronavirus started. The country went into lockdown during the New Year break. And then that lockdown was extended. And extended again. American manufacturers found themselves 3-4 weeks behind because China was only starting to come back into operation.
And then Covid-19 spread in the US. And we went into lockdown. Any goods that were ordered could not be delivered because they could not be received at the Docks. And this included very simple items just as face shields and facemasks.
Traditional manufacturers could not ramp up initially because the demand was expected to subside in a few weeks. And that same belief prevented large orders of product that would not arrive for several weeks. But they were needed, and the lack of basic gear likely contributed to the spread.
Add to this the fact that a huge amount of consumption occurred during lockdown. Americans stuck at home took to online shopping to pass the time and spend a stimulus check. But there was nothing for them to buy. Inventories ran out and then all companies could do was wait. Demand was flowing by, but the supply just wasn't there. And this still continues, walk down the hard goods aisle of a Wal-Mart.
The modern global economy is built on shipping. The ability to float or fly product from one part of the globe to the next. With the pandemic and the closing of borders that was no longer possible.
3D Printing Continued
During all of this Slant 3D never paused production or left our clients without supply. And we have since been able to support manufacturers in need of plastic parts until normal production can return to its previous levels. We also manufactured thousands of medical PPE until the rest of the world caught up.
3D Printing allows for the flexible and local production of plastic parts. Slant 3D has our primary factory in Boise, Idaho. We are working on building another in Louisville, Kentucky and many of our clients have our Mason 3D Printers in their facilities.
All this distributes production around the United States. And allows us to perfectly meet demand of products as needed.
3D Printing changes manufacturing so that it can be easily adjusted, easily scaled, and practically zero cost to start. There are no molds, there are no minimums and millions of parts can be produced. 3D Printing is pandemic-proof.
As the need for medical PPE has increased there has come to be a shortage of the materials used to make it. This is true even for 3D Printed medical items. The supply chains are not currently able to react quickly enough to deliver filament where necessary.
So at Slant 3D we have turned our 3D filament extrusion lines toward the problem and will begin producing affordable PLA for the use by 3D Printers, in our local Idaho and beyond, to make medical protective gear.
We have first released Transparent PLA to be used to print headbands and other devices.
For Pickup in Treasure Valley
PLA Filament Shipped Nationally
Slant 3D is manufacturing 1000 3D Printed face shields per day to help stem the shortage of medical supplies during the Covid-19
14 Days ago Slant 3D started to dedicate a significant portion of our capacity to producing 3D printed PPE (Personal Protective Equiptment) to medical professionals across the USA who did not have access to it.
Since then we have been manufacturing at least 1000 face shields per day and delivering them all over the United States. If you have a need for such PPE please contact us.
This huge production capacity has been able to supply hospitals as traditional manufacturing ramps up over weeks. It required less than 1 day to reach the production level we hit. And it was possible to go even higher. With Print Farm Beta, our new printer facility, we will be able to produce 10,000's of face shields per week if the need arises again.
Under normal circumstances these large printer farms are used to manufacture parts without the cost of molds. Companies use that capability to start and scale new products with very little risk.
As the production requirements for Covid-19 decrease, our factory will quickly move back to the normal production of these plastic parts. Producing Thousands of pieces every day with 3D Printing.