There is a misperception that Production 3D Printing means 100-1000 parts. Just a solution for bridging the gap between prototypes and injection molding. But this is far from the case. Mass Production 3D Printing is able to be more cost effective than injection molding beyond 100,000 pieces. And in many cases injection molding can never compare. But how is that possible. Let's go through it.
Per Part Cost
On average a single 3D Printed part is more expensive than a single injection molded part. But but by how much varies widely based on the design of the piece.
3D Printed parts can cost $0.25, $5.50, or 24.50 each. Higher volume makes them cheaper and simpler parts are lower cost to produce. This is really not that different than the per part cost of injection molding when you amortize the mold.
Now can 3D Printing ever match injection molding on price with enough volume. Yes it can. Think about the inputs. 3D Printing just needs electricity and plastic to make a finished part. Injection molding needs the same things.
At Slant 3D we have worked with many clients where the per part cost has been the same or less than injection molding into the 100,000's of parts. The higher the volume the more efficiently your part can be produced.
And a real key difference is that production 3D Printing can be profitable from the first part. Whereas molding has a large up front cost that requires the sales of thousands of units to pay off. Molding is high risk. 3D Printing is much lower risk while still being a similar or better cost.
Rarely when designing a product or looking for a manufacturer do people consider the rest of the supply chain. There is the cost to make the part and nothing else. But 3D Printing really allows for an entirely new supply chain dynamic.
With traditional manufacturing it is necessary to make a large quantity of parts in one go. And then ship and store those parts over a long period of time. Ford stores spare parts for their cars for 10-20 years. While it was cheap to mold them warehousing can account for 10-25% of the cost of a product.
A simple example would be a simple widget or toy. We will use a product from Angled.io shown below (retails for $19-25). To store this product in an Amazon warehouse would cost between $0.40-1.50 depending on the season. If they do not sell quickly then the warehousing would become about 3-5% of the cost of the product after just a few months. Imagine the carrying costs when you have to hold inventory for years.
Compare this to 3D Printing. A part only has to be made when it is ordered. Or in batches over time. There are no large production runs. This reduces warehousing to a fraction of what it was, reduces cash tied up in inventory, and ensures that supply always matches demand. While the per part cost of the part might be higher these saving often more than make up for it.
This is not always considered in monetary terms. But Risk is a big part of a product cost.
With molding you have to risk 10,000's of dollars in the cost of the mold before you can even sell your first piece. If people just don't want to buy it, then you will lose your entire investment.
3D Printing allows you to test the market. Even at very low volume (<100) you may be profitable or at least break even on each unit. And then as you grow your margins widen. But if the product doesn't sell you lose only hundreds of dollars not thousands. 3D Printing is exceptionally low risk because no part has to be made until it is sold. This is the fundamental premise of services like Angled.io
What is the cost of a delay or a shutdown. This is now known from covid, when manufacturing and shipping shut down. Local options became attractive. But even at that level traditional manufacturing is very fragile.
Most injection molding companies run 1-10 large machines making parts. If a machine breaks down, or even a operator goes home sick, a large percentage of capacity can go down and parts will be delivered late. Production 3D Printing farms are made up of hundreds of individual units. If a single one of them fails it makes no difference in production because there are ten waiting to replace one.
This makes production 3D Printing farms exceptionally reliable. Saving cost on shutdowns or delays from that single point of failure that traditional manufacturing suffers from.
So the short answer is yes, 3D Printing can produce millions of parts for the same or less cost than injection molding. Largely through the savings that it brings about up and down the supply chain from reduced risk and reduced carrying costs.
Hopefully this post has made that a bit more clear. 3D Printing is able to operate at scale without up front risk or long term shutdown issues. During the entire pandemic, Slant 3D never shut down. Our factories are too automated and efficient to require it. Our clients were able to continue to receive products instead of being caught in the limitations of overseas molding and storage.