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.
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
High Volume 3D Printing allows companies to produce products at any scale without the cost of tooling. For new companies and products this eliminates the high initial cost of tooling. And for companies making complex hardware, or low volumes of products 3D printing can allow them to access new markets faster and with far less risk.
So how is high volume 3D printing able to replace injection molding. There are a number of ways. Fast 3D printers or Lots of 3D Printers.
Fast 3D Printing
Fast 3D Printers are systems that are able to adiditvely produce parts very quickly. These are systems like HP Multi-jet Fusion (MJF) or Carbon's Digital Light Synthesis (DLS).
These technologies are able to produce parts very quickly with 3D printing. But they are limited in geometry and require a lot of post processing, so they remain quite expensive. Though when compared to the high up front cost of molding, these processes can be very useful in high margin products. The design freedom they offer with lattices and light-weighting are also big advantages.
Lots of 3D Printers (or 3D Printing Farms)
3D Printing Farms, like the ones created at Slant 3D, used hundreds or thousands of 3D printers all working in parallel to create parts very quickly at scale. A single part may take an hour to produce, but with hundreds of machines working on that part, you are now making hundreds of parts per hour.
3D Printing farms are able to achieve a much greater scale and a much better cost advantage than other systems because they take advantage of scale. They source larger amounts of more common materials and high automation eliminates the labor costs that can make other processes very expensive.
While fast 3D printing systems may only be affordable compared to molding up to about 1000 parts, 3D Printing farms have achieved cost parity with molding up to 100,000 parts. And that is just by eliminating the need for molds. Long term the savings can be even greater with better supply chain management that 3D Printing allows.
Choose the Process for your Product
It is important to understand that each manufacturing process is not a perfect substitute for any other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. As you plan your product consider everything from design attributes to ultimate scale and production needs.
High volume 3D printing is great for getting started and scaling up. It also can provide many interesting engineering advantages. Injection molding, is great at high volumes and also provides certain engineering advantages. It is all a matter of what you product needs to be when it gets into customer's hands and your budget for making that happen.
Production 3D Printing is a new technology. And not everyone has interacted with it or understands what kind of pieces and features can be made with it. That is why we designed the Slant 3D Sample Brick. This 3D Printed part demonstrates many of the key features and capabilities of the additive manufacturing process. Everything from complex internal geometries to complex surface textures.
The sample Brick can be ordered for free with the form below. Just let us know where to send it and we will get it to you.
Clients may use the 3d printed sample brick as a reference for proper design of 3D printed parts. As well as a way to evaluate our high volume 3D printing processes.
Features on the Brick
3D Printing is increasingly being used by businesses. And it is not just being used for prototyping. The ability to iterate on products and create complex geometries are both enticing to create parts at production scales. And with technologies such as our Production 3D printing Farm, large scales are feasible. But during the design and prototyping stage sampling, verfication, and design can increase up-front costs to create a 3D printed product. That is why we created the Mason 3D printer for businesses
The Mason is a 3D printer derived from the production 3D printers used in our large scale 3D printing farm. Because of that, any part made on the Mason will be identical to the parts coming out of the Slant 3D Printing Factory. This means sampling is no longer necessary. Clients only need to make a prototype on the Mason that is up to Spec, and then thousands more can immediately be produced with identical settings and characteristics on the Slant 3D farm. Prototype to production with no steps in between.
There only leaves the problem of getting those settings right on your prototype. Design for production 3D printing is an entire discipline, and very few truly understand how to optimize a part for large volumes. And while the machines may be identical from prototype to production, materials could vary if the client is using a spool of filament off of Amazon.
So to standardize the workflow completely. We created OnSite. Onsite is program that connects a Mason 3D printer directly into Slant 3D. An Onsite Subscription provides stardaized materials and access to profession file preparations and optimization. So every variable is eliminated in the prototype stage. Mason+Onsite gives you completely final production-ready prototypes. Not to mention machine insurance, discounted setup, zero sampling costs, and low cost high quality filament.
With the Mason 3D printer combined with an Onsite subscription we have made is possible for businesses to create, and quickly scale 3D printed products as easily as a software company might make an app.
Production 3D Printing offers a low-cost-of-entry and flexible alternative to injection molding when creating new toys. Allowing designers and businesses to more readily break into the global toy market and scale up.
Toys are one of the largest markets for final plastic products in the world. Valued at nearly 89 Billion dollars per year, toys are also lucrative. The trouble is that toys are risky and subject to little more than the whim of the consumer. Literally one weeks consumers will be buying the latest fidget spinner, and then the next week stocking up on branded Avengers Endgame action figures.
The toy industry is dominated by the Likes of Lego, Hasbro, and Mattel. Organizations that can afford the cost of design, tooling, and marketing of literally hundreds of SKU's of toys from 1 month to the next. With 10's of thousands of dollars for each variations, the cost to create a toy is very high. And when the toy is made there is really no guaratee of its success. They are subject to the 50-70% failure rate of any business.
So how does a small company, startup, or lone inventor break into the toy industry, when the the cost of entry and risk is so high?
The problem is in the tooling. That high upfront cost to get started. And the high cost to change if a product is not successful. Molding and traditional tooling are what makes the cost-risk relationship so bad. But there is a process that does not have that high initial tooling fee but will allow you to grow should your toy take off. Additive Manufacturing or Production 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing is when a part is literally grown from a feed of plastic. Traditional manufacturing carves of stamps a shape. 3D printing just makes it appear. Additive is also a digital process. Meaning that, to use it, all you need is a 3D model of your product and it can be created.
Another benefit of the Digital nature of 3D printing is that if a product needs to be changed, updated, or completely replaced, all it takes is an e-mail with the updated 3D design. With no new tooling or molding costs a physical part can be tweaked while it is being made.
Production 3D printing has also reached a scale where if you gain success and are selling thousands, 10's of thousands or more, it can keep up and maintain pricing comparable to injection molding. If a part costs $0.25 for 10,000 units with injection molding after the mold costs, it is likely that production additive can have a similar cost profile without the molding costs.
Additive manufacturing also eliminates the need to create 10,000 pieces. This might be more expensive per part that making large quantities, but it allows a business to experiment and test a market, and not be stuck with the high cost of having to ship and store thousands of pieces. Companies like Slant 3D also often have fulfillment systems, so you create a product and upload it to our system and then when a customer makes an order, the part is printed and shipped right from one of our facilities. (You can learn more about 3D printed product fulfillment here.)
Toys are a risky business. But they can be very lucrative when they are successful. But startups and inventors need a resource that allows them to experiment with production quantities and scale easily without high up-front costs. Traditional manufacturing does not meet those needs. Production Additive manufacturing does allow for this. It lets toy designers make 10 toys and test them, make 1000 toys and sell them, and then make 100,000 and get rich. Just imagine what you could create if the cost to make a toy was not so high
Slant 3D is one of the leaders in high-quantity additive manufacturing. We work continuously with small business and corporate clients to bring new products to market affordably using our production 3D printing farm. Learn more about our capabilities here.
Have an idea for a Toy. Contact us and our team will help you with the design and manufacture, without using the cost of molds.
Already have a toy Design? Submit it for a quote for production 3D printing and out engineers will work with you to get it into production.