When making an injected molded part, you are limited by the capability of molds because molds are made out of metal. So you can only create the finest detail that your machine can make in a metal mold. For the most part, this process can create fine details but there are some limitations.
On the other hand, with 3D printing you can create very complex shapes with ease. There is no need for a mold or added machinery costs. The part is grown by a 3D printer the same way as it creates every other product. Some of the most complex looking products can actually be some of the easiest designs to produce. For example, in this pyramid design the printer nozzle never lifts off the product because it can create this design with one continuous line. It would be virtually impossible to create this design with injection molding due to the various holes and textures this art piece has. Textures on the surfaces of complex shapes are a lot easier with 3D printing and you have a lot more freedom.
With 3D printing, textures have a wide variability because you are not designing a mold around your part, you are just designing the part. So you have unlimited capabilities of the types of textures you can create. Whatever you can do in CAD can be 3D printed, which is not the case with injection molding. With injection molding, you are unable to imprint thin texture on a part so instead you would have to add various steps to the manufacturing process in order to get your part how you’d like. Even if you are able to create your design in the end, manufacturing your product will be a lot more expensive because of this.
In short, molds are expensive. However they might be worth it if your part is simple enough and you are creating thousands of products. But be sure to keep in mind that the more complicated your product is, the more expensive the injection molding process is going to be. With 3D printing, you are able to produce more complex parts with textures because it does not create an added step. With injection molding it might. So before you start to manufacture your textured part, compare the capabilities of 3D printing versus injection molding to see which is best for your company.
Is 3D printing better than injection molding? This is a common question we get at Slant 3D. The answer is it really depends on what parts you are trying to make. Your project details including your deadlines, the product you are printing, and how the product is being used are all valuable pieces of information we can use to help decipher whether 3D printing is the right option for you. One of the key pieces of information that we need to determine this is whether or not your product is an enclosed body.
An enclosed body in 3D printing means that the design has a closed print chamber. This means there is no airflow that runs through the product and it is virtually solid. 3D printing is exceptionally good at making products with enclosed bodies like a solid cube. On the other hand, injection molding physically cannot make a solid cube that is about two inches small.
Creating solid objects with injection molding usually takes longer because of this multi-step process. However with 3D printing, you can print a solid cube directly off the printer and send it out as is.
Another option with 3D printing is to also fill your product with infill. The reason for this is because it has the durability of a solid object but it is more cost effective because it uses less plastic. Inside the product would look like a honeycomb pattern that is able to maintain excellent structural integrity but also be light weight and use less material. Injection molding cannot do this.
So if you have a solid part, we suggest that 3D printing is probably the right direction for you. With 3D printing your product can be ready to ship directly off the printer rather than having a multi-step manufacturing process. With 3D printing there is also no need to redesign your product in order to prevent deformation because that issue is no one that 3D printing has. We are going to continue the conversation about 3D Printing versus Injection Molding in future blogs to come so make sure you are following Slant 3D on social media to see when we post our next blog post on the topic.
Many people think that 3D printing is more expensive than injection molding, but that is actually false. 3D printing materials costs break even with injection molding materials at about a quarter of a million parts, but whether it is cheaper as a whole than injection molding is really dependent upon your specific project.
However, something that is very often overlooked by designers when they create molds is that once you have all those parts made, you then have to store them and ship them. Both of those are no small costs. If you are shipping, for instance, within the continental us, shipping is quite expensive and you'll be spending several thousand dollars to move a truckload of your parts to your warehouse. Once those parts are at your warehouse, it's very expensive to store them because you have to pay rent for that warehouse. These hidden costs are to be considered when you do injection molding. While it may have an upfront cost and then low per part cost, you have long term carrying and transportation costs that go along with it.
Now 3D printing can produce the same volume of parts as injection molding. At Slant 3D, we produce thousands of pieces for different clients, more cheaply than injection molding. The reason for that is because we don't have the mold cost up front, so a client is able to just email us a design and then we can produce up to hundreds of thousands parts. The per part cost is higher than injection molding when operating at lower volumes, but if you're making a quarter million small parts, 3D printing can make them for the same per part cost as injection molding.
On the extreme end, you can even just email the product over, get verification samples, and then just create a listing on your site. When the order comes in, we print and ship that item for you so you completely eliminate your shipping cost and warehouse cost. All of this of course also maintains the benefit of eliminating the upfront mold cost. This on-demand style of part production cannot be matched by injection molding. If you buy that mold, you have to use it, and you have to make and sell tons of pieces to make the mold pay for itself.
So, is injection molding or 3D printing the better option? It depends on the context of your business. If you're going to sell a million parts tomorrow, you probably want to go with injection molding. If you have a more distributed fulfillment schedule, 3D printing is probably a better option because you eliminate all your ancillary costs. Just make sure that when you're doing the cost comparison that you consider all of the costs, such as the mold cost, carrying cost, warehousing, and shipping. A product is not done and not made until the customer has it in their hands. If your manufacturing method can make that process cheaper, that might be the right choice.
3D printing has allowed people to produce rubber parts for a long time now by using TPU, or thermoplastic polyurethane. Printing with TPU is a little bit more expensive than using injection molding generally, depending on what your part is, but it is the easiest way to mass-produce rubber parts.
If you’d like to use TPU for your next project, just specify what durometer and what softness you’d like. We’ll then create several patterns and run some test prints to ensure that we end up with the exact texture you’re looking for. 3D printing provides the ability to easily create rubber items which have never been possible before. Get a quote from us today to see how fast we can manufacture your rubber parts.