3D Printing is on average less expensive than injection molding up to about 100,000 pieces. If you are making more parts than that in a production run then a mold might be advisable. (Though you should also consider the Just In Time Supply benefits of 3D Printing as well). But that is just an average. So what are ways to optimize a product for mass production with 3D Printing. Here are a few tips
This is by far the most important component, to 3D Printing or any other manufacturing process. Any product design has to be optimized to the 3D Printing process to be made the most cost effectively.
For FDM production 3D Printing the general rule is Fatter, Rounder, Thicker. This is often difficult for designers to adapt to. Injection molding is often the exact opposite (i.e. Thinner, flatter, straighter). But since 3D Printing allows so much control of the properties of a part, volume is irrelevant and the geometry changes often allow the 3D Printed parts to have better performance than a traditionally manufactured part.
Here are more details on design for FDM Production 3D Printing
3D Printing has no MOQ. You can make one piece or millions. And while this seems obvious any increase in volume decreases the per unit cost of production.
We are often asked by clients what are the volume cutoffs for price breaks. At Slant 3D there are none. Basically any increase in quantity decreases the unit cost. It is a curve not a set of stairs. And how steeply that curve drops the prices is entirely dependent on the product.
Since 3D Printing does not have to to produce an entire run of one part at a time the way injection molding does, we instead can produce partial runs of dozens of parts at a time. This not only ensures that a project can launch on time, it will in fact decrease inventory costs on the client side.
This is how it would work. A client might request 10,000 parts for the project. But they only need 1000 per month. Rather than producing all of the pieces in a bulk shipment, Slant 3D would dedicate a smaller amount of capacity to just making 1000 units per month and shipping on a set date. The benefit to Slant 3D is more predictability in production scheduling and the clients has lower inventory carrying costs since they only have 1000 pieces on shelves at any given time not 10,000 collecting dust. Thought sometimes extra shipping charges can offset the cost benefits.
Longer Production Time Using Excess Capacity
Plan ahead. Rushed orders are expensive orders. And while any project will have an expected timeline within the normal production flow, longer lead times can be great cost saving options. And 3D Printing allows these to be achieved much more easily without always delaying a project.
Historically most products have a defined lead time. This is because the client has to be able to plan the launch. And the manufacturer has to produce all the units in one go. 3D Printing is not so stringent. Especially 3D Printing Farms. We have hundreds of machines working on hundreds of projects at any given time. Each machine could be working on any of the active projects. For example, if there is a rush order, most of the capacity could be pointed toward production of that single order, and then the next day switched to the next order in the queue.
But even more common than rushed orders are intermittently used equipment. Since manufacturing is often cyclical some equipment may be unused or kept for overflow purposes. This is called "excess capacity." (Most factories seek to operate at at 85-90% capacity, the extra 10% is for spikes in demand).
If a project has no set lead time then it can be produced on that excess capacity. This allows production capacity to be utilized more effectively and decrease machine down time. The tradeoff is that at any time your project production could be usurped if that capacity has to be utilized for priority clients. So in return for allowing us to utilize our factories more effectively and possibly having a longer lead time, we are able to discount the machine-time component of production.
Slant 3D Helped Haddington Dynamics Produce Their Advanced robot Arms. Now they have Sold for 25 Million Dollars.
Haddington Dynamics started out with a Kickstarter for a DIY advanced collaborative robot called Dexter. The arm used a new type of control chip and advanced dynamics to attain very high precision at a very low cost.
The Kickstarter was successful with Haddington gaining $108,000 dollars in preorders. But there was a problem. They did not have the capacity to fulfill them. So they reached out to Slant 3D in 2017 and our large scale 3D Printing farms. So started a long relationship. Slant 3D ended up producing thousands of parts for Haddington that met the quality and scale that they needed as they grew. And along the way they transitioned from standard plastic components to Carbon Fiber Re-enforced parts.
Today we are very happy to see Haddington hit a new milestone by being purchased by British online supermarket Ocado. Haddington's technology will be deployed as a way to help with warehouse management and distribution.
Haddington was purchased for 25 million dollars in cash and stock and can look forward to having their 3D Printed robot arms helping to delivery groceries to thousands of happy customers.
Mass Production 3D Printing is a very affordable means of producing custom shipping trays and packaging. Since there is no molding cost, but a still a high production capacity, custom packaging solutions can be created for the same of less cost as traditional methods. And, and since it is always a custom solution the results are often better.
PCB's come in all shapes and sizes. Because of this transport can sometimes be difficult. The pieces need to be well protected (both from physical harm and ESD dangers). Very often PCB makers and chip manufactures will resort to traditional generic packaging solutions. Such as vacuum-formed plastic trays and injection molded ESD safe waffle trays.
But these have a limited viability. A chip may need special features to help with manufacturing or just a shape that works with a PCB that is outside the norm.
3D Printing can quickly create custom trays at volume without a long lead time or high expense. Generally it takes about a 1-2 weeks to complete production of several hundred trays. And depending on material the cost per chip for the packaging can be between $0.10 and $0.50, comparable to traditional solutions.
But since 3D Printing is a different process these trays need to be designed slightly differently. Here are some basic notes for your internal design teams if they are looking to design custom PCB trays. Though we also offer Design services if needed
Use Nubs or Tabs as Finding Features
Traditional designs would just have a peg with a hole to act as a finding feature when trays are stacked. This does not work with 3D Printed PCB trays because that would create an overhangin during printing. And overhang is a feature that juts at 90 degrees from a part, like the branch of a tree. Most trays are printed on end so finding pegs become that overhang.
The best alternative it to just a use small nub. This will will still prevent shifting without creating an overhang.
The other option that perfectly replaced the peg is a slot and tab. Just make certain to have the the them positioned parallel to the longest side of the tray (Again because the part will be printed with its longest side vertical on the print bed.)
Angle the Chip Slots if Overly Large
FDM 3D Printing is used to create these types of trays therefore there is a limit to how large of an bridging overhand, like the top of a chip slot, can be. generally if that upper surface is greater than 1 inch wide then this option needs to be used.
Basically, the rotate chip slots so that they no longer follow a rectangular pattern. Instead of squares they become diamonds. This eliminates the overhang and instead gives each slot a slanted roof.
This is a very simple rule. But it provides a huge advantage because it can reduce cost and improve quality at the same time. Just eliminate any sharp edge, and if a fillet can be made larger, make it larger.
Add Labeling and Branding
While 3D Printing requires some shifts in design thinking due to manufacturing limitations, there are a few things that it contributes that can vastly improve your product. Since there is no mold involved you can actually create features for free that were not even possible before. Labeling is one of those.
This labeling can be something as simple as the name of the company producing the chips, or information about the batch and chip name for us in production. An example of branding is shown below for one of our clients Silicon Mountain Contract Services
Not many trays are able to actually retain the chip in place so that it won't fall out. These features are exceptionally difficult to mold affordably. But with 3D Printing they are free to add.
Production 3D Printing can create exceptionally complex mechanisms, again without significant added cost depending on the cost. But for specialty applications systems can be created that control chips in just the right way so that they are not damaged but are released when needed in a production line. When working with Plexus we created a simple locking tab system that was able to hold the proprietary chips from the side but them lock open so that they could be removed on the factory floor.
3D Printing is very affordable and very flexible, it is an ideal way to create custom packaging solutions for PCB's or any other type of product. Why we have even done consumer packaging at times.
But the quickest way to find out if 3D Printing is right for your application is to submit a quote with your needs and specifications and one of our account engineers will be in contact with you soon.
Up until about 10 years ago, if you wanted to manufacture a product the process would look something like this
And this system has worked. It is why we have cases for our iphones. Why there are more clothes in the world than anyone can deal with. And why about 90-99% of hardware product-based businesses fail in the first 3 years.
In order to get rich making stuff you have to already be rich. The barrier to entry in manufacturing has been very high. You have to buy engineering skill, buy the molds, pay for storage of the parts, all before you even sell one. Compare this to what Zuckerberg did with a laptop in a dorm room on a weekend. All he had to invest was his time. Can manufacturing ever be like this? With 3D Printing it already is.
Let's take a look at manufacturing a part with mass production 3D Printing at Slant 3D (other production 3D Printing companies follow a similar process).
The reason this is all possible is because 3D Printing does not have any tooling. Each part is grown from just the raw material. There are no stamps or significant setup. It is a digital process. All we need to make a part is a 3D model of the part. Basically you go from idea right to production.
Now many people question the scale of 3D Printing. That is, how many parts can it actually produce at a time. That question really depends on the part. But let us us try to break it down a bit.
On a cost basis 3D Printing is generally cheaper than injection molding up to about 100,000 pieces. So if you are making more than that a mold should be considered. If you are making fewer than that 3D Printing is likely the #1 choice.
As far as the ultimate quantity, our Print Farm Beta facility is able to produce between 30-80,000 pieces per week, and that number continues to increase.
Though again this really depends on the part. Print time and complexity can all affect this. A bigger piece is more expensive than a small piece. A Carbon Fiber Nylon piece is more expensive than something made from PLA. And 100,000 pieces will be produced more cheaply per unit than 1000 pieces.
The best way to find out for sure is to get a quote. Quoting is free and you can use the information to compare to other manufacturing options. And your project engineer will work with you get reduce the cost and improve the product.