Injection Molding has been the primary means of producing large quantities of plastic parts for nearly 100 years. 3D Printing has been a means of prototyping for only about 30 years. But they are beginning to overlap. And there are many reasons that 3D Printing is starting to become a better alternative to injection molding.
The key advantage of production 3D Printing is that it does not require molds. A design can be changed simply by changing a CAD design. This means that companies can produce several versions of the same physical product at scale and test how they sell. This is much how internet companies test different versions of a website to see how they perform.
The ability to iterate without setting a part into stone, allows companies to test products, and make changes based on customer needs. It also allows companies to have many variations of the same product made without extra cost in order to address different customer niches.
3D Printing is able to produce hundreds of thousands of parts at a cost similar to injection molding. But it is also able to produce just a few parts at a price that is much less than injection molding. This means that a company company can make 10 pieces of a product, test market those, and then make 100 pieces. Then a 1000, then 10,000.
3D Printing is very scalable. So a small business can start with small production runs and then scale up to whatever the demand for the product is. This means that no cost is ever wasted. The parts can be made as needed without much need for warehousing or inventory or any kind.
The way most 3D printing printing processes work, especially FDM, there are far fewer constraints on geometry than with molding. Parts can be made thick with a hollow honeycomb interior so that they are stronger than molded parts. Holes can be cut that curve through the parts, again impossible with injection molding.
Something as simple as a solid 2 inch cube is impossible to produce with injection molding. But is simple and very affordable with 3D Printing.
Another large advantage of 3D printing is the precise control of the surface of the part. 3D Printed parts can have a texture applied to them while they are being made. So the texture is basically free to add to the part.
There is a common misconception that 3D Printing is far more expensive than injection molding. This may have been true 5 years ago. But it is no longer.
At Slant 3D we find that on average we can produce up to 20-50,000 parts or more before a mold becomes more economical than 3D printing. This is not only because of the cost of the mold. But the cost of warehousing and wasted product. Generally 10% of the cost of a final product is in the inventory. And often 10-20% of all inventory is just not sold.
Since production 3D Printing allows parts to be made on demand it is possible to produce parts only as needed. So less warehousing is needed and there is never unsold inventory. In some cased Slant 3D will only produce parts for a client once those parts are sold, so there is never any inventory or wasted product.
The fact that production 3D printing is reaching a point where is is simply more efficient to produce parts with than injection molding, and give companies the ability to better address product problems makes is very compelling compared to molding.
There is also the fact that the design freedom of 3D printing allows businesses to address individual niches very affordably. So even though 3D printing can't yet make the Millions of parts that molding can, the necessity for that volume may not be necessary. Why sell 1 million of a single product when you can sell 1000, of 100 different products that each customer would like better.
3D Printing very likely will drive the market away from injection molding. The high up front cost and lack of flexibility will simply become to expensive.
Interested in having your product manufactured with Production 3D Printing. Get a free quote from Slant 3D within 1-2 business day.
Architects and builders have the challenging problem of communicating clearly what an expensive building will look like before it is built. There are no do overs. 3D Modeling has helped this problem a lot. Architects can show photo-realistic images of the building and the layout. But it is still not quite intuitive for people to understand what the actual physical building will look like. 3D Printing models of homes and buildings gives a clear and intuitive representation of what a building will be in a way that photos and drawings just can't communicate.
Coming from the Boise Valley, Slant 3D has a unique perspective on this problem. Real Estate and Building are two primary drivers of the economy locally. So we have been able to develop our capabilities around 3D Printing models of buildings and houses.
Slant 3D produces thousands of 3D printed parts per week as an alternative to injection molding. All that is needed to take advantage of this is a 3D model of a building. Then it can be produced in large quantities for promotion of subdivisions and factory homes. The models can be on an agents desk and be a gift to the buyer when they select a home.
But really the most important part of 3D printed architectural models is the communication. They make the layout and proportions abundantly clear. Humans think in 3D space. We have difficulty interpreting drawings and even walking through VR, because it just doesn't have the context that a 3D physical model does. These 3D printed houses ensure that there is no confusion between the builder, the buyer, or the designer. Buyers can hold the model to know what they will get. And Builders can use the model to communicate to subcontractors what they need.
Would you like to have your architecture models 3D printed. Just submit them through our online quoting form and one of our engineers will be in touch.
Production 3D printing is often considered to be a process limited to rigid materials. But that is just not the case. High Volume 3D Printing farms, such as those operated by Slant 3D, are able to produce thousands of low durometer parts, all without the cost of injection molding, and much more affordably than other additive processes.
Currently Slant 3D is able to 3D print parts in materials with durometers as low as Shore 00 40. This allows us to make objects such as custom 3D printed insoles, and rubber-like toys. And if we move into harder versions of flexible than we can manufacture items like bike helmets and industrial wheels.
The material that is used to achieve this is TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane). This rubber material is ideal for all kinds of flexible applications. It can be engineered to be wear, and heat resistant. And we also produce components with ESD safe properties.
3D Printing Shoes and Insoles
Since TPU is so durable and flexible it is ideal for manufacturing the soles of shoes. Feetz is one company that attempted to bring about 3D printed Shoes. Newcomers such as Zellerfeld are also working on designs for 3D printed shoes.
All over the world people are using TPU 3D printing to create custom insoles. Pes Sem Dor in South America gathers data about customers feet and then produces custom insoles. Slant 3D performs the manufacturing of similar insoles here in the United States for several different clients.
Flexible Industrial Parts
Since TPU creates such compliant 3D printed parts it is often used in the production of industrial components, such as rollers and robot grippers. The parts are then put to use inside of factories moving other products around.
The 3D Printed TPU is able to hold up through thousands of cycles without breaking down and ensures that new parts can be obtained readily without having to find new molders 5 years down the line.
TPU is just another one of the materials that Production FDM 3D Printing is ideally suited to. At Slant 3D we have worked for several years to implement high volume production of parts made with the material. And we have achieved that. We are now able to produce literally thousands of Flexible 3D printed parts per week. This means there is no longer a need for molds or tooling of any kind.
If you would like to get a quote for manufacturing your Flexible Rubber part please submit your design for a quote and one of our engineers will be in contact within 1-2 business days.
Idaho is largely an agricultural and heavy metal manufacturing state. But there is also a good piece of technology located in the state. As as these manufacturers grow they utilize more and more 3D Printing. Here are a few 3D Printing services that operate in the State of Idaho.
Intermountain 3D is a reverse engineering and 3D Printing service company. They are able to 3D scan products or create 3D models from scratch and then turn those models into 3D printed prototypes using the SLA or SLS processes. They can also handle limited production
Started in 2014 Intermountain 3D is also reseller of professional 3D Printers.
Operating one of the largest 3D Printing factories in North America Slant 3D focuses on production of 3D printed parts. With a capacity of over 10,000 parts per week, Slant 3D serves as a more affordable alternative to injection molding.
Slant also maintains a team of engineers to ensure that you can take your product from napkin to production with as few steps as possible. They also support materials ranging from simple bioplastics to ESD safe materials for electronics.
Started by Justin Shook. Shook Ideas is a product design company that has a proven track record of creating, marketing and manufacturing final products with 3D Printing. They utilize the FDM process through a group of Ultimaker 3D printers.
Originally from Portland, RapidMade maintains an office in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This manufacturing service is able to take a concepts all the way to production with injection molding. They support all types of 3D Printing processes including MJF, polyjet and FDM.
Based in Boise Idaho, 3 Solutions Design provides 3D printing, machinging, and fabrication services. They utilize statysys 3D printers to create good quality prototypes and can transfer designs over to other processes as well.
The EU has announced new laws that will require that appliances be cheaper to repair than replace for up to 10 years.
The Ecodesign Directive requires that manufacturers stock repair parts for up to 10 years. This can be tremendous burden to appliance manufacturers because new appliances must be introduced every 1-2 years in order to keep pace the with the technology demands of consumers. It is quite possible that some lean manufactures will not be able to sustain the large inventories of spare parts to support this type of regulation. But smaller companies and upstarts will have to innovate to address the new standards.
Fortunately they may not not have to. Additive manufacturing will allow these companies to hold their inventory digitally, and only manufacture it as needed.
Instead of storing vast inventories of spare parts for years companies can design parts for washing machines, microwaves, etc to be 3D Printed. Then they simply have to stock parts as needed for specific time periods. Large quantities during production. And then only at the rate that spare parts are needed. This eliminates the need for stagnant capital kept in inventory. Essentially companies will have to design for Just-In-Time Manufacturing.
This would normally be a challenge. But production 3D Printing services like Slant 3D and others have the capacity to produce parts at rates that can meet the production requirements of these companies as they build and scale new products. Our High capacity 3D Printing farms can produce thousands of parts per week and our engineers are present to help you design your product appropriately. Submit initial designs for a quote of the product.
There seems to be hundreds of 3D Printers available to pick from. Cheap chinese kits and exceptionally expensive industrial systems. But what are the machines that simply work. Good quality machines that might not be the cheapest but are tools that you can rely on to make a good quality part ever time. Here are some good quality workhorse 3D Printers.
Taz 6 - $2,950
The Taz 6 is an open source 3D printer created by Aleph Objects. It is constructed of a powdercoated aluminum and steel frame and 3D printed parts. The Taz 6 is built in the US and is recognized as good reliable industrial desktop 3D printer. The one disadvantage of the Taz 6 is that it utilizes a moving print bed which effectively waves your parts through the air so that warping can be an issue.
Taz 6 Key Specs
The Mason V1 is a 3D Printer specifically designed to run for years with just normal maintenance. Born from printers designed for high volume 3D printing in a factory the Mason is made from a tough aluminum extrusion frame and 3D Printed parts created by the Mason itself. One truly unique advantage of the Mason is that any part made on it can immediately be produced by the thousands by the Slant 3D printing factories without samples are setup fees making it ideal for prototype to production design and planning. Through the Mason does have a slightly smaller print volume than other machines on this list.
Mason Key Specs
Ultimaker 3 - $3495
The smallest machine in this lineup. The Ultimaker 3 is a proven machine that has been around for awhile. With a completely integrated software, material, and machine setup Ultimaker makes it easy to get start printing quickly. Though maintenance can be difficult given the closed off nature of the machine and components.
It does boast dual extrusion which allows it to print parts with multiple materials.
Ultimaker 3 Key Specs
High Volume ESD Safe 3D Printing allows the creation of fixtures and jigs for electronics manufacturers.
At Slant 3D we are constantly working to add new materials and capabilities to our high volume 3D printing facilities. About a year ago we partnered with 3DXTech and Essentium to integrate ESD safe plastics into the production capabilities of Slant 3D.
ESD safe materials are those that prevent electrostatic charges from building up in a component. When you are shocked by a doorknob that is an ESD (Electrostatic Discharge). Those charges can damage electrical components. So all material in an electronics factory have to be ESD Safe.
It is very difficult to make 3D printing materials ESD safe. The only way to achieve it is to integrate carbon nanotubes into the polymer so they conduct electricity away. Essentium and 3DXTech are the only companies that have reliably created these types of materials with verified results.
Slant 3D has been doing production of 3D printed jigs, fixtures, and enclosures for electronics for some time. Usually the only electrical requirement was insulation and fire resistant behavior. But we recognized the need for ESD safe materials with several of our clients so we started to develop the 3D printing processes to handle these materials.
The ESD safe plastics that are now utilized at Slant 3D are High Rigidity TPU from Essentium and PLA from 3DXTech. These allow us to create tough functional components and ESD-safe prototypes for all of our clients. These materials are also integrated for high volume production. So final products can be 3D printed at scale with ESD safe materials, without the cost of tooling.
At Slant 3D we are constantly working to add new materials capabilities to our production 3D printing factories. So far we have integrated 3D printing materials ranging from bio-degradable bio-plastics to Carbon Fiber Nylons. And we will continue to build this catalog.
If you have a project that requires 3D printing with a specialty material please contact us for a free 3D printing quote and our engineers will work with you to get product and material integrated into our production capabilities so you can have your parts as soon as possible without the cost of tooling.
3D Printing offers a great resource for quickly and affordably creating end of arm tooling for the many tasks that collaborative robots take on.
Collaborative robots are a great resource for smaller companies looking to automate. They are a flexible resource for completing repetitive tasks in assembly and sorting because of their flexibility and ease of training. The trouble is that robot grippers are not very versatile. Often each task needs its own specialty gripper to be created to grasp the objects in that task.
Creating these grippers is both expensive and difficult due to CAD requirements and machining costs. 3D Printing makes the creation of EOAT much easier and flexible.
End of Arm Tooling Created with 3D Printing
3D Printing is a very flexible means of manufacturing EOAT. It allows users to very quickly create custom fingers or parts nests without many machining concerns or time input. That is why Schunk has started providing resources to create custom 3D Printed end effectors. EMI has also started selling 3D Printed EOAT solutions. And there is the Slant 3D Part Mason Project that provides customisable Grippers for Collaborative robots.
Since there are so few design constraints on 3D printed parts you also don't have to worry about high costs of engineering and design bottlenecks.
How to get 3D Printed EOAT
Get a Model
At Slant 3D we maintains a team of 3D modelers that can help you design a gripper for your application within hours or days. You can also access pre-made 3D models for gripper fingers and pads at Part Mason. The models are ready immediately to be printed by a service or on your in-house 3D printer.
One other option is to use online resources such as eGrip by Schunk which can generate .STEP files that can be 3D Printed very affordably.
Print the Part
Once you have the model you can print it on your In-house 3D printed, such as the Mason. If you need higher volumes of the part to outfit an assembly line, or if you need specific material properties you can submit the design for a quote. Generally it only requires 2-4 days to turn around 100 pieces at Slant 3D.
Use Your Robot
When the parts arrive they can immediately be mounted onto your collaborative robot and put to work. If you ever need more pieces they can be ordered instantly without redesign or setup.
Reduce the Cost of International Shipping by Teleporting Parts Via 3D Printing
The internet has allowed the sale of products to anyone in the world. Whether those be consumer or industrial products. But that access is ruined when the products have to cross borders or oceans. Shipping a crate overseas then paying tariff and warehousing fees significantly increases the cost of a product to the end-user. Wouldn't it be great if Parts and products could be "teleported" to the destination country with just an e-mail to save those shipping costs. With Production 3D printing that is possible.
3D Printing allows 3D models to be emailed and manufactured anywhere in the world. The trouble has always been there has never been a formal entity that can print your parts in the country where they are to be sold and ensure they are shipped to customers. 3D Printing services like Slant 3D allow products designed in one country to be produced and fulfilled in another country without the cost of shipping. And Slant 3D can hold your model in our digital inventory and produce it only when it is needed.
How it Works
By using Slant 3D you can take your product international and not have to deal with international shipping costs. And you have the huge production scale of Slant 3D. So you know that when demand rises we are able to back you up. This is a great resources of companies and entrepreneurs outside of the United States to send their production to the US without the high cost of shipping.
3D Printing is quickly becoming a best option for production of plastic parts. You have little-no inventory. You can send your parts anywhere in the world for free, and you are able to grow without any high up-front investments.
Who is Doing It.
Slant 3D already doing this with dozens of companies and entrepreneurs. They include companies like Uncommon, a project call Part Mason, and Etsy stores such as BakersStreetCuters. All of these products are manufactured and fulfilled from Slant 3D. But most of them are designed outside of the United States
At Slant 3D we often work with companies that are either considering building a 3D printer farm or are looking to complement their existing 3D printer farm. We are obviously biased toward not building a 3D printer farm in house, but there are a number of reasons for that. If we were to sum it up then we might just ask you "Why don't you buy an injection molding machine?" Buying a machine like that is equivalent or better than building a 3D printer farm. With this post we'd like to expand on some of the reasons to and not to build an in-house 3D printer farm
Cost to Start
3D Printers are expensive. Yes there are machines that cost $200 dollars (see "depreciation" below). But you are building a miniature factory. You need good equipment, not cheap equiptment. So lets say that you are buying high quality machines like the Ultimaker or a Mason. You can expect to spend $1000-$2000 dollars per machine. So if you want to create a "farm" you can expect to spend nearly $10,000 dollars before you even get your first parts out. And, if budgetarily you have to use cheap machines, you are still spending $1000-$2000 before you can produce parts.
The alternative would be to put those thousands of dollars into a service like Slant 3D. There you could invest a bit at a time at get 10 parts, then 100 parts, then 1000 parts, and so on. And you are profitable as soon as you sell your first part. With building you printer farm you essenatially go into debt and then you have to pay it off.
In short building a printer farm for you business is like buying a mold. High up front cost that you have to pay off with sales. Contrasted with a service where your per part margins might be smaller but you are always profitable.
Cost to Scale
Say you have a printer farm. And now you have a successful business that is selling parts. But now you are limited by how fast you can afford to buy more machines. Clients might be clamoring for your product. But your farm can only produce them so quickly, so you can only sell so many, so you only have so much money coming it. You can't just push a button and produce 1000 parts. You have to wait for them 10 at a time.
Using a service you have an entire factory backing you up. Hundreds of machines. Thousands of parts per week. At Slant 3D we produce about 15,000 parts per week. And accessing that capacity does not cost you more. In fact, producing higher volumes of parts at Slant 3D decreases the cost per part.
So with a printer farm, you are forced to buy more machines as you grow, and that limits how fast you can grow. With a service you can make ten parts in a week or 1000 parts in a week the costs drops. So as you grow you make more money without any other upfront investment.
(As an aside to this. Services do have limited capacity. And with 100 clients needed parts produced in a week, sometimes it can take longer. But a slightly longer lead time from a service is still freer than the incremental increase of adding another printer)
This is why you do not want to use $200 dollar machines to build a printer farm. They will operate continuously for 6 months then fall into such a state of disrepair that they are basically useless and you have to replace them. Contrasted with a good quality prosumer or commercial machine, such as the Mason. That is designed to operate for years without breaking down.
But even with good machines in your farm. They do eventually break down and need to be replaced. And that is another cost of operations that you have to deal with. Most consumer machines will only run 1-2 years tops until they have to be replaced. So you have 50% depreciation on your farm each year. So if your farm costs 5000 dollars to setup, 2500 dollars disappeared after the first year. That was $2500 that could have gone to into actual parts that could be sold if you used a service.
Services have this baked into the model. And at places like Slant 3D, we actually manufacture our own machines in order to minimize this cost. But that is not feasible for other companies because they don't have the resources to design a printer farm 3D Printer.
3D Printers need a lot of maintenance. If you are only maintaining 10 printers you are going to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping them running. They plug, they jam, they go out of alignment. All of that is time lost that could have been put towards improving your product or selling more of it.
And what happens when you simply do not have the expertise to maintain your printers. Then they may be thrown out and written off as an expense.
You can expect that about 5-10% of the cost of your farm will have to be invested in maintenance, and that does not include time-spent.
Again services have the advantage of having this baked into their business models. They are able to streamline and standardize maintenance so that it is minimized
We did not include labor before, now we will. 3D Printer farms are very labor intensive. And they require expertise. You are not operating a fleet of microwaves. You are operating a fleet of CNC machines.
Each machine must be tuned and prepped with the correct material. The files on the machines must be sliced and tested. Then the prints must be started on each machine. And those prints must be removed when each machine is done. When prints come off the machines, they must have supports removed and be refined for shipping.
All of this is a labor cost. If you are starting a company you can count your labor as free, but that is not the case as soon as you hire an employee to do this work. Labor is a big component of 3D printer farms. They are not low effort.
This is part of the "secret sauce" of services like Slant 3D. All of our systems are automated. Parts are robotically removed from machines. Cameras and trained personnel check and evaluate thousands of parts per day. Again this makes the cost of labor per part much lower than with an in-house 3D printer.
You can watch the video below to see how involved it is to maintain a 3D printer farm
Material is what most people attribute to the cost of 3D Printing. And it is a big one. And two things contribute to the cost of material. Failure rate of the machines and scale of purchases.
Standard desktop 3D Printers fail about 25-50% of the time. That means that you will waste 25-50% of the material that you put into them. And that applies to a 3D Printer farm composed of desktop 3D Printers. This failure rate is due to all the factors that we have already discussed, expertise, labor, quality of the machines, etc. And it is practically unavoidable without equipment designed to operate in high-volume long-running environment.
The other contributor is Scale. Unless you are buying material literally by the truckload then your cost of material will be much higher than a service that is able to import truckloads of material. They simply have an economy-of-scale that is very difficult to achieve with a small printer farm that is dedicated to only a couple of products.
There is also just the efficiency of expertise. 3D Printing services employ world leaders in operations around additive manufacturing. They know answers to questions in-house 3D printer farms don't know to ask. They are a great resource because of this. When using a service you have input from these troves of experience that you would otherwise not be aware of.
And 3D printers are a skill-set. They are not a microwave that you can just turn on and get parts out of. Especially not at any kind of scale. The reliability and and consistency of a service comes from this experience.
Reason to Go it Alone
Now it is true. Services are more efficient and reliable than an in-house 3D printer farm when making large numbers of parts. But there are cases when you can and should create an in house 3D Printer farm.
1. Many Custom Parts
If you are doing custom parts for people. You should have a printer farm. These are high margin components that you can evaluated and iterate on more quickly than any service can ship you parts. There may also be some cost advantages a well. But you should do the spreadsheet on that. You can get a quote from Slant 3D for comparison
But even here services can be of help. Slant 3D works with companies that make on-demand custom cookie cutters. And it is far easier to have Slant 3D do the printing, packing, and shipping then have the client build their own printer farm. Now they are able to focus on designing more cookie cutters.
With any business context matters. Services offer scale fast for companies that are ready to grow. In-house printer farms offer control, but very rarely cost benefits over the long term.
If you are starting a business around 3D printed products. Make sure you have a spreadsheet that takes all of these costs into account. And get a quote from us to see how they compare. Taking the stress manufacturing your product off you plate is always a huge value. That is why we started Slant 3D.