Back in the beginning of April, Slant 3D was approached by Natureworks to do custom Golf Course hole markers for the Zurich Classic in Louisiana. The idea was to have two block tee markers with the Zurich Classic logo at the beginning of each hole so that when the event was broadcasted on television, the Zurich Classic logo would be seen everywhere.
When Natureworks reached out to us the Zurich Classic golf tournament was only a month away. This is why they looked into mass 3D printing the marker cubes with Slant 3D to ensure that they would be finished in time for the tournament and made affordably. There was no time for delays or mistakes in the manufacturing process. Slant 3D worked with Natureworks to design a 3D model of the hole marker and finalize a design. Natureworks was able to see exactly what the final product was and what it would look like without having the physical partl. Once the 3D model was approved, Slant 3D manufactured, assembled, processed, and shipped more than 1,000 parts within 2 weeks. A project that would have taken 30 weeks worth of print time was able to be completed in just under 14 days using the largest print farm in the world.
This would have been impossible with traditional processes. Using Injection molding the cost alone would have been 10-20x the cost of 3D Printing, if it could be done with such a large part at all. But the lead time would have also been 6-12 months.
We were super excited to work with Natureworks using their environmentally conscious material Ingeo. Ingo is a sustainably produced biopolymer with a small carbon footprint produced by Natureworks. Natureworks uses plants like corn and beets to transform greenhouse gases into long-chain sugar molecules, which are then fermented into lactic acid and used to create the material Ingeo. This process of making this specific type of PLA is only the beginning. Everyday the 3D printing industry is becoming more and more environmentally conscious and Slant 3D is happy to be a part of it.
Working with Naturworks and the Zurich Classic was a great project to work on and a great testament to how quickly and effectively we can deliver on a major time crunch. It also was an added bonus to see the products we manufactured on live television. If you have a project you would like to get quoted for contact us today to see how we can produce your product.
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.
So how is a final product manufactured with mass production 3D Printing? And more importantly what is the development process leading up to final production.
Well, there are a few steps. Mainly there to ensure that the final product is within spec for the client. Mass Production 3D Printing offers much more control and variation than traditional processes. And since it is relatively new there are areas that we think it is important that a client understand early on which can reduce cost and provide amazing new opportunities if utilized.
With this post we hope to outline the general process and why it exists, and give mass production 3D Printing clients a "look behind the curtain"
If the title is not clear enough this post focuses only on the process of mass production 3D Printing. Which is generally longer and more intensive than prototyping 3D printing. If you just need a part made quickly for testing we recommend going to our prototyping service Twist 3D Printing
Submit a 3D Model
3D Model Type
This sounds simple but can be confusing, mainly because there are dozens of 3D model formats. And what is submitted might have limitations.
When we request a 3D model we prefer a .STEP, .STL, the original CAD, or a .OBJ file. And if you are sending a zip a dimensioned drawing with critical tolerances is nice icing on the cake.
A .STEP file is the strongest because it is immediately editable, and contains accurate dimensional information. It is pretty much the universal 3D model file. And the editability is also great because we can quickly implement slight modifications that do not change the function of the part but improve its manufacturability.
Original CAD files can be converted but not always, and they can delay processing of quotes.
.STL and .OBJ are often submitted by clients with a history in 3D printing. And these files are fine. But they have no universal units associated with them and can therefore be incorrectly scaled during processing. And since they are generally files that have been developed for 3D Printing they are generally focused toward the machine or process that they were prototyped on. Which means that tolerances may be off for the mass production 3D Printing method. And last of all they are uneditable. So these standard 3D printing files are the easiest to work with but can lead to many problems.
The need for a dimensioned drawings ensures that critical features are highlighted and the tolerances associated with them. This helps during the design review.
Overall, if you can send one of each file type that is great. If you submit a .STL make sure you provide the dimensions it was created it. Or just submit a .STEP file. If you have all the files to submit place them in a zip file.
If you have none of the files requested. Send what you have and we will work through it. But do expect a delayed processing
No 3D Model
This is not uncommon. But a 3D model is required in order to 3D print the product so one must be created. Fortunately we offer a 3D modeling and engineering service, so we can create your model for you. Our team can create anything from engineering models to creative character modeling.
3D Modeling is billing at an hourly engineering rate. The advantage of our team is that they are able to optimize your part for mass production 3D Printing, speeding up the process down the line.
If you are still indeterminant about what the final production process will be, then we do recommend hiring an independent design firm. Because our team's expertise is focused on 3D Printing, therefore should that not be the ideal avenue we might not have "all the tricks" for converting your model over to something like an injection molded format optimally. We are specialists and not explicitly a design firm.
When submitting a part there is always an option to "elaborate" on it its function and specs. While it is optional, due to confidentiality reasons, we highly encourage completing it for engineering and economic reasons. The more we know about your product and what it needs to do to function, the more we can help by offering advice about optimization and good design for additive manufacturing so you get the most bang for your buck.
Any file submitted to Slant 3D is kept confidential and will not be shared outside of the organization. Any employee of the company is required to sign an Non-disclosure agreement upon hiring covrting all projects within the company that they may interact with.
That company NDA is enforced upon all employees. But we will also sign NDA's put forward by clients. If you would like to have a 3rd party NDA signed before submitting files please either contact us first or send your NDA to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Quote for Your Mass Production 3D Printing
Once a file is submitted to use it is forwarded one of our design engineers. These people have some of the most in depth knowledge of mass production 3D Printing in the industry. We know this because Slant 3D operates the largest 3D Printing farms in North America. Once assigned the design engineer will be with your from the beginning to the end of your project and they will be the main point of contact.
The first thing that engineer does is quote your part. This will include slicing it and receiving estimates of material use and print time. The engineer will then use their expertise to optimize the process as much as possible at this stage and give a reasonable estimate.
The design and features are then fed to our quoting system which takes into account dozens of features about the part including capacity available, lead time, rejection rate, and of course material and print time to create a final estimate.
But we do want to emphasize that we do not always agree with the final quoting system. Design of a product and the optimization of it is a process that is so broad that there can be exceptions that our automated system can't deal with. That is why the design engineer is there, and we don't use a fully automatic quoting system. A good engineer can spot things that a computer can miss. And that leads to our next component
While the engineer and system are restricted to your design when quoting they will make design suggestions when the quote is delivered. 3D Printing is a new and often foreign process so we want to make sure that clients are able to utilize our expertise in the field to get the best result. There is no reason to hire a service if that service cannot lead to a more optimal solution.
So the engineer will offer modifications that can improve price, functionality, appearance, and manufacturability. These might be as simple as reminding a client that the best way to design for FDM production is to "Minimize surface area and don't worry about volume," an idea that is counterintuitive to those with a history in injection molding, to more detailed ideas such as adding specific features. The design engineer will also have the expertise to implement those design changes if necessary.
But this part is why it is so important to provide as much information about the function and critical features of the parts at submission. Without that information the engineer is not able to make optimal suggestions quickly. It is entirely possible that they could suggest something as simple as a different material to dramatically improve the economics. But if they don't know the function of the part then they must defer to the client entirely. Because the last thing we want to do it slow the process by changing your product. But we do think it is important to make our expertise available in every way possible.
When the quote and design review are sent over to you that is the first step of what will likely be an iterative process. Ideally the client will be able to implement any design notes that the design engineer offered and have the parts requoted.
Sampling is part of the process that we consider very necessary in order to ensure that reality match expectations. Again mass production 3D Printing is quite new and we want to be certain that client are getting what they want.
A roughcut sample is a piece that has not been optimized for production. That means that it is not final and is not representative of the final product.
So why do them? Well we use roughcut samples as a quick and often free way to illustrate a challenge with the part that the client should be made aware of. For example, it may show how support material could be converted into a functional feature of the part with a redesign.
Though we are often hesitant to create roughcut samples, because clients often misconstrue them as representative of the final product, and they are not meant to be. For example, while highlighting a feature like support material usage a roughcut sample might be made with a large layer height for the sake of speed. But the client might assume that the large layer height is somehow part of the final product as well, which it most certainly isn't. So we are cautious because these quick and dirty pieces can create confusion.
Shipping Time and cost can delay a project. And often mass production 3D Printing is used to shore up a leak in the manufacturing a supply chain. Much like in the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. So to expedite this we can do photo samples.
These pieces are production ready prints of the part which are photographed in our studio to highlight every critical feature of the part. Some include caliper measures and color comparisons.
While not the same as holding a part these samples are quite common and can create some ease of mind when a part is ordered in a rush.
Regular Sample/Production Prototype
Of course we do these. But we call them a production prototype. Therefore a fee is applied that is a prototyping fee. At this stage we go though the full optimization process. It might include several iterations on the part finding the optimal process and tweaking tolerances. This is not a push-button part of the process. Therefore it can be quite expensive. While 3D Printing is most certainly more flexible than injection molding it is incorrect to assume that there is not still a setup process for a new part or product to make it just right.
The cost of a sample is the standard setup fee, plus shipping, plus the cost of the prototype of that part at the prototype quantity. Often these will be included in the first quote you receive.
Quality Control From Samples
There is a lot of possible variation in 3D Printing. There are different processes and an infinite control of part material behavior. Depending on application there is also a broad variation of requirement from clients. A bracket might not need to look good, but a vase must be immaculate. But those words are not quantifiable. Many clients will use "good surface finish," but that phrase can have wildly different interpretations based on their backgrounds.
Therefore we have adopted the "Eye Doctor" QC method during sampling. In most cases with new clients we will send multiple iterations of the same part to the client for them to evaluate. Some will be blatantly bad, some will be "immaculate." (Particularly in the area of appearance, tolerances after all are very cut and dry. "Look good" doesn't mean anything to an engineer.) When the client receives these samples we will use their feedback to establish a QC checklist that will be used during post processing in production to verify that parts are up to spec during production. This checklist might evolve and become more narrow overtime.
Unfortunately there are not currently universal engineering standards within the additive manufacturing sector. So this has been the best method we have to ensure that we meet the clients standards when each client is different, and the technology is incompletely understood or designed for.
The quickest way to create a sample is to print it yourself and iterate until your have what you want. That eliminates shipping, and Slant 3D providing iterations to choose from. It can also be very fast since shipping and communication lags are eliminated. The reason it is not general practice is because no 3D Printer or process is created equal. And there are costs in the machine itself as well as skill of operation. We have years of experience, your company may only use it causally.
But we have fixed this problem with our Mason 3D Printer. The Mason is a prototyping machine. But one that leads directly to production with no intermediate steps. Anything made on a Mason is identical to what will come out of our 3D Printing farms. This dramatically speeds up sampling because the client can do it themselves. And if they do not have expertise in a particular area your design engineer can prepare an iteration of the part and email it you to print on your Mason. So you get our experience and one of our machines to work with in your facility or business.
Our clients who use this model often have many products (such as in a toy company) or designs which change dynamically (such as factory tooling).
Adjustment of the Quote after Sampling
As we have said the creation of the production sample is an iterative process. There is experimentation that can reveal problems with the piece that were overlooked during the digital quoting and evaluation process. Therefore after a production sample is made and evaluated the quote made need to be adjusted, either from features we find or from client feedback.
Very often the design itself will change after samples are created. And every time the design changes the quote must be updated as well.
So the part has been submitted, the design has been optimized. The Sample has been approved. Now we are ready to actually make thousands of parts and really utilize mass production 3D Printing.
The payment method and structure will be decided during the quoting process. Generally it is quoted as payment upon order if the order is under a certain dollar amount. But that is flexible based on size of the order and the structure of the contract. 50% down and Net30 are common.
Note: The setup fees are applied anytime a design is changed or a production context changes. So the setup fee is billed at sampling and at production.
We Make the Parts
Not much to say here. We make the number of parts requested with the same specs as the approved samples. We do this by using fleets of 3D Printers.
Shipping can be done a number of ways. The most common are shipping in batches, just in time, and bulk shipping.
Batches are generally the fastest way to get parts, but can increase shipping costs. But this method can allow for the payment on delivery contract that spreads out expense over a longer period of time and allows for tighter control and iteration in between shipments. Remember 3D Printing allows for a design to be changed during production without a big uproar, just a refreshed setup fee.
Just in Time is often partnered with Slant 3D's fulfillment capabilities. When an order is made we are notified though a number of means and the part is printed and shipped. This can also include warehousing of inventory or just digital inventory. This is optimal for spare parts and high margin businesses where the cost of the single part can be higher.
Bulk Shipping, is just like injection molding. We make 100,000 parts and send them to you on a pallet.
The Baker's Dozen Rule
3D Printing is new. Things are overlooked and sometimes problems can slip through. Therefore at Slant 3D we have a "Baker's Dozen Rule" where we intentionally overproduce on nearly every job to make sure that there are spares and replacements. Just in case.
We Guarantee Our Parts
Once a sample is approved and we have shipped those parts we are responsible for those parts to your doorstep. If they are damaged in transit we will replace them. If they are not up to the specs outlined and agreed upon we will replace them. A supplier should not require oversight. The reason a company uses a supplier is because they think the supplier can do the job better then they could. If we can't then it should be taken inhouse. If we screw up we own it and pay for it.
We have begun production of a low cost, recyclable, 3D printer filament spool, that is an improvement on the tradtional MC-008W 1KG SPool.
With all of the innovation in the 3D Printing space, the MC-008W spool has stayed relatively unchanged. But why? They are expensive to ship, nearly impossible to recycle, and in production they are not efficient or easy. Not to mention that new covid restrictions and tarriffs on the chinese-made spool have increased so that they have become expensive. But it is what there is.
There are some filament suppliers that use cardboard spools, but those are not ideal for 1KG material. The community have created reusable spools. But these are not universal and can lead to tangles. There just is not a good alternative to the tried and true MC-008W 1KG filament spool. So we made the SlantSpool V3
The SlantSpool V3 was created in order to allow for a US supplier of good quality, recyclable 1KG spools for 3D Printer filament.
The SlantSpool V3 is modeled off the MC-008W spool. The core interface is dimensionally identical so that it can fit on existing fixtures. The outer cardboard flanges are stamped from white-coated cardboard to prevent dust contamination of filament. The entire spool is half the weight of traditional MK-008W spools so shipping costs are lower both from Slant 3D and to customers, saving filament suppliers thousands of dollars.
We have also adjusted the design to make use simpler. The Core has 4 primary anchoring holes for the filament that are over-large to make starting the spool easier on the winder machine. And the hole is curved to ensure that filament is not kinked at the end causing a jam in the 3D Printer when it is used.
The Core of the SlantSpool is manufactured with 3D printing in our production 3D Printing Farms. This manufacturing method not only allows it be made affordably at the same quantities as injection molding, but allows the design to be easily changed. We can create custom spools with the logo of the filament supplier and we can adjust the hub configuration for different fixturing. We are not limited to the 1KG MC-008W. We can make any spool you want.
The cardboard flanges serve a number of functions. First of all they can be recycled easily, eliminating the piles of spools 3D printing users have to deal with. They are also cut in an octagon so they can be stored on a standard shelf without stacking to keep them from rolling off. And last of all the cardboard can be slit to anchor the end wherever it is without having to trim of kink filament to hit the one hole.
Overall the SlantSpool was designed by 3D Printer users and a Filament production line. Making it optimal for all. Not just "the spool that works." We are working with several filament suppliers now to get the spools into production and they are obviously in use on our own production lines and printer farms. Small labs and 3D Filament producers can purchase the spools quickly and painlessly at the listing above. It you need special hub design or quote please contact us.
As the pandemic continues to drag on, we are seeing more and more depression partially from the imposition of current masks. They are uncomfortable, and they really hinder interaction. But the team at TrueContour lead by Jonathan Swartz are looking to change that.
The TrueContour Mask is a fully custom and transparent protective facemask. So it fits to your face perfectly and allows other people to still see you. This not only improves protection from the better fit, but it also improves interaction and human connection, something that seems to be waning with current masks and work at home trends.
The TrueContour is manufactured through a number of steps. First the customer scans their face using the TrueContour app on a iPhone. This scan is then converted into a 3D model that is used as a mold for the mask.
Slant 3D has partnered with TrueContour to produce these molds on demand as orders come in. Our 3D Printing farms, composed of hundreds of 3D Printers, ensure that demand will never outstrip production capacity.
Once the molds are 3D Printed, then the masks are vacuum-formed and final processing produces the final mask.
This design and method of manufacturing is brilliant. True contour is fixing many of the primary problems with current masks by improving the seal and just allowing people to not look like a bank robber everywhere they go.
They are also taking advantage of a perfectly flexible supply chain brought on by Production 3D Printing and lean manufacturing principles. They will never have excess inventory and will be able to produce perfectly custom items quickly and on demand. We are very excited to be working with such a great and forward thinking company.
Each year the season comes around. Prime Day, Black Friday, Christmas, New Years. The quarter most consumer companies, big and small, look forward to. Sales spike across, Etsy, eBay, and Amazon.
3D Printing companies this time of year often end up expanding their printing capacity by buying a few more machines. An investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars. The trouble is that after the season passes the machines are left idle. So the investment is not fully utilized. Certainly the machines may be "paid off" but profits are often reduced. And Christmas sales don't often correlate directly with business growth.
This problem is where services are valuable. They are able to bridge the production gap through the season. Clients are able to ramp up their production capacity using Slant 3D printing farms to complement their own. The benefit is there is no cash outlay for equipment that may go unused. The production is perfectly flexible. And the system is profitable on the first part since larger printer farms are often able to access greater economies than smaller 3D printing operations.
This is an especially a good system for small businesses such as Etsy stores. But applies equally well to the industrial sector where sales can spike and production rates need to increase.
Out of Darts is a Slant 3D client that utilized this resource in 2019. Normally Out of Darts manufactured Nerf mods that are 3D Printed on their Prusa Farm in Washington, but with spiking demand from the holiday season they did not have the ability to scale up production quickly enough to meet all of the orders.
Out of Darts reached out to Slant 3D to produce Nerf Dart Hoppers, a large part that absorbs a large amount of Print Time. Slant 3D was able to produce hundreds of the parts over a 2 week period in order to help them meet demand until they could scale up.
But there were challenges. Matching the same output as that associated with Out of Darts was difficult in the time allowed. Since they were using Prusa's and Slant 3D uses our internal Mason there was a conversion process that could've delay the production schedule. Not to mention color matching and other challenges. This is why it is important to prepare the the spike ahead of the need.
Slant 3D can accept quotes today for the christmas season and accept contracts based on need. Sampling and verification can all be completed as well to ensure that everything is ready when it is needed. This helps to prevent delays during the sales spike.
Slant 3D operates the largest 3D Printing farm in north america. We have a scale that allows any 3D Printed product company to scale up quickly in order to meet the short term demand.
Reach out to us for a quote for your 3D Printed product. And get great for the 4th quarter fun.
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.
They should only be used as a last resort. That is what we would like to say to health professionals that might not be fully aware of what the technology is capable off. With this post we would like to outline the risks of using 3D printed respirator masks, both for the general public, the 3D printing community, and the medical community that might not fully understand what is being pushed by a panicked, but anxious to help, 3D printing community.
If you are using crowd-sourced masks. That is, masks that are made by local individuals with garage 3D Printers. Then you essentially have hundreds of individuals handling your masks in their homes. Those people may not be tested for Covid-19. so they could be infecting the masks that they are supplying. This means that they could potentially be directly infecting you staff if you utilize these masks. Amateur manufacturing means amateur facilities and handling.
Due to the layer lines in DIY 3D printed parts these masks can't be reliably sanitized. Therefore even though they will be relatively expensive to manufacture (2-5 dollars each). They would have to be disposable, if they can reliably be used in the first place.
The vast majority of masks printed are being printed from the baseline design in rigid materials. They do not compensate for male or female. This means that they do not fit most faces. In fact most of these masks fit little better than the oxygen mask in an airplane.
The only option to make them fit is to heat them up in boiling water or in a microwave and then press the softened plastic onto the face of the individual using the mask.
The problem is that these masks are not reusable. They cannot be sterilized. So a worker has to potentially scald their face each time they put on a disposable mask. And the seal is still not viable. Because the mask would lose its seal as soon as the healthcare worker moves their jaw.
The poor fit essentially makes the mask useless except as a splatter guard.
Again, due to the rigid materials, and DIY designs. Most of these masks do not seal around the face. Admittedly many paper masks don't perfectly seal either. But they also do not force air to move through the few crevasses that exist. And again the only way to get a reasonable fit (other than a plastic part in front of your mouth) is to heat the plastic and form it to your face.
Due to this problem healthcare professionals would almost be as protected if they simply tied a dishtowel in front of their face. Maybe better protected. (Read the full study about these materials effectiveness)
At Slant 3D we have tested every publicly available 3D Printed face mask. The one that prints the fastest is complete in 2 hours. That means that a single printer could produce 12 a day. There are only about 1.5-2 million 3D printers worldwide. That means that only 24 million masks could be manufactured per day if every printer was working on it 24/7.
China has the capability to manufacture 116 million N95 masks per day right now. And then it takes 2-5 days to ship those out. The US is expected to only need 3.5 billion masks to address coronavirus for a year. That is basically 1 month of production.
3D printing is not necessary and is not viable to address the supply shortages. Supply shortages that do not yet exist. They are only projected based on worst case scenarios. Please everyone calm down and allow the supply chains a few days to catch up.
It is truly great to see the 3D Printing community stepping up to help with local manufacturing. But respirators are not the item to manufacture. There is not yet a need, and when there is, 3D printing is not a viable solution. Please believe us we do mass manufacturing with 3D Printing for a living. Time would be much better spent on face shields, potentially ventilator parts, and general everyday aides.
To the medical community. If you have a drastic need for facemasks please use your knowledge to make a call. At this point there is no magical antibacterial 3D printing material that makes 3D printed masks much better than a torn tshirt tied across your mouth.Use your own judgement. It is possible that 3D Printed masks can help to limit the spread from covid-positive patients. But again, tshirt.
Please feel free to reach out to us here at Slant 3D if you have any questions or need to have some other part manufactured. We are standing by and reserving capacity when viable solutions become apparent.
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.