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.