Additive Manufacturing is a More Flexible Alternative to Injection Molding. Saving Time in Design and Manufacturing
Whenever a mold is a created a design is literally set into stone. This means that the product cannot be changed without starting from scratch and paying for the cost of a new mold. For new products and new companies that cost of the mold is a single up front cost worth thousands of dollars, that might be unusable.
Molds are also difficult to design for. Shrinkage, draft angles, and general geometries are all factors that severely constrain design of injection molded parts. And the application of textures is either expensive if integrated into the mold or must be done in post processing.
If a product is not well proven, with preorders or customers guaranteed to buy it, injection molding is not a good option, because it is a high up front cost, to create a product that might not address the market and needs to be redesigned.
The wheels for the toy above, were produced by Slant 3D. The client begain with a simple solid wheel. But about 30% of the way through production they changed the design to the "spring-hub." All they had to do was send the new file and within an hour the parts being produced were updated to the new design. No time or money lost in retooling.
Production 3D Printing solves the inflexibility in injection molding.
Additive manufacturing, or production 3D printing, fixes the inflexibility of molding. High volume production of 3D printed parts allows for the production of as large of quantities as injection molding. But, since there is no tooling required to make 3D printed parts, products can be updated and changed at anytime during production. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a new mold a client just e-mails a new file. Then every part off the line from then on is that upgraded part.
Production 3D printing also has the benefit or allowing production of more varied and complex geometries. That is not to say that there are not "best practices" when designing for additive, there are. But there is still far more freedom in the design of part than injection molding. Textures can be applied for free. Internal cavities and channels are possible. And parts can be implanted inside of the part during the process (especially with FDM). Curved and Organic shapes like the 3D printed pencil holders shown below are also feasible with additive and impossible for molding..
The Time Saved with Additive Manufacturing
Within this discussion of the flexibility of high volume production 3D printing vs. molding there is also the question of time. The time lost in in retooling can put production behind days, weeks, and even months. These all have a cost associated with them. The fact that additive manufacturing is able to almost instanteously update and continue saves all of the effort.
Lastly there is the question of delivery schedule and Just-In-Time capabilities. Molds are intended to be used for very large runs of parts. This means that clients must makes large quantities and then store them, regardless of demand. Production 3D printing does not have this problem. Parts can be produce precisely at the rate of demand, ramping up and down as needs. Additive can make 10,000 parts one week, and 2000 parts then next without extra cost. This also decreases warehousing fees and losses from unsold inventory.
Final Word on Molding vs Additive Manufacturing
Molding is a great technology for products intended to sell millions of units, without update, for relatively large periods of time. But in a world where product optimization and addressing customer feedback can mean the difference between success and failure, especially for more niche or specialty products, additive manufacturing is clearly a better option.
Slant 3D produces 10,000's of parts every week for clients ranging from startups growing their first products to corporate clients, like amazon, implementing new lines. We are here to help you make you product successful with large-scale additive manufacturing to let you go from 100 parts 100,000 parts. Just send us a 3D model of your part to get started and one of our sales engineers will get in contact with you with a quote.