Is 3D printing better than injection molding? This is a common question we get at Slant 3D. The answer is it really depends on what parts you are trying to make. Your project details including your deadlines, the product you are printing, and how the product is being used are all valuable pieces of information we can use to help decipher whether 3D printing is the right option for you. One of the key pieces of information that we need to determine this is whether or not your product is an enclosed body.
An enclosed body in 3D printing means that the design has a closed print chamber. This means there is no airflow that runs through the product and it is virtually solid. 3D printing is exceptionally good at making products with enclosed bodies like a solid cube. On the other hand, injection molding physically cannot make a solid cube that is about two inches small.
Creating solid objects with injection molding usually takes longer because of this multi-step process. However with 3D printing, you can print a solid cube directly off the printer and send it out as is.
Another option with 3D printing is to also fill your product with infill. The reason for this is because it has the durability of a solid object but it is more cost effective because it uses less plastic. Inside the product would look like a honeycomb pattern that is able to maintain excellent structural integrity but also be light weight and use less material. Injection molding cannot do this.
So if you have a solid part, we suggest that 3D printing is probably the right direction for you. With 3D printing your product can be ready to ship directly off the printer rather than having a multi-step manufacturing process. With 3D printing there is also no need to redesign your product in order to prevent deformation because that issue is no one that 3D printing has. We are going to continue the conversation about 3D Printing versus Injection Molding in future blogs to come so make sure you are following Slant 3D on social media to see when we post our next blog post on the topic.
Many people think that 3D printing is more expensive than injection molding, but that is actually false. 3D printing materials costs break even with injection molding materials at about a quarter of a million parts, but whether it is cheaper as a whole than injection molding is really dependent upon your specific project.
However, something that is very often overlooked by designers when they create molds is that once you have all those parts made, you then have to store them and ship them. Both of those are no small costs. If you are shipping, for instance, within the continental us, shipping is quite expensive and you'll be spending several thousand dollars to move a truckload of your parts to your warehouse. Once those parts are at your warehouse, it's very expensive to store them because you have to pay rent for that warehouse. These hidden costs are to be considered when you do injection molding. While it may have an upfront cost and then low per part cost, you have long term carrying and transportation costs that go along with it.
Now 3D printing can produce the same volume of parts as injection molding. At Slant 3D, we produce thousands of pieces for different clients, more cheaply than injection molding. The reason for that is because we don't have the mold cost up front, so a client is able to just email us a design and then we can produce up to hundreds of thousands parts. The per part cost is higher than injection molding when operating at lower volumes, but if you're making a quarter million small parts, 3D printing can make them for the same per part cost as injection molding.
On the extreme end, you can even just email the product over, get verification samples, and then just create a listing on your site. When the order comes in, we print and ship that item for you so you completely eliminate your shipping cost and warehouse cost. All of this of course also maintains the benefit of eliminating the upfront mold cost. This on-demand style of part production cannot be matched by injection molding. If you buy that mold, you have to use it, and you have to make and sell tons of pieces to make the mold pay for itself.
So, is injection molding or 3D printing the better option? It depends on the context of your business. If you're going to sell a million parts tomorrow, you probably want to go with injection molding. If you have a more distributed fulfillment schedule, 3D printing is probably a better option because you eliminate all your ancillary costs. Just make sure that when you're doing the cost comparison that you consider all of the costs, such as the mold cost, carrying cost, warehousing, and shipping. A product is not done and not made until the customer has it in their hands. If your manufacturing method can make that process cheaper, that might be the right choice.
3D printing has allowed people to produce rubber parts for a long time now by using TPU, or thermoplastic polyurethane. Printing with TPU is a little bit more expensive than using injection molding generally, depending on what your part is, but it is the easiest way to mass-produce rubber parts.
If you’d like to use TPU for your next project, just specify what durometer and what softness you’d like. We’ll then create several patterns and run some test prints to ensure that we end up with the exact texture you’re looking for. 3D printing provides the ability to easily create rubber items which have never been possible before. Get a quote from us today to see how fast we can manufacture your rubber parts.
3D Printing Farms, like those that Slant 3D deploys are able to produce 10,000 of parts at a time. Easily matching injection molding on cost and time to market, while reducing risk. Every once in awhile we get to show off some of the projects that we are working on and discuss the process. Check out this conversation that our founder had on LinkedIn recently.
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.
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.
Production 3D Printing Allows for thousands of parts to be made very quickly. At Slant 3D we operate some of the largest 3D Printing farms in the world. This allows us to provide other companies with large scale 3D printing. Freeing them to focus on design, marketing, or customer relations without the cost of building 3D Printing factories themselves. We believe that 3D Printing is much like computer server farms. They are always present and important, but also invisible (You probably didn't know that Netflix actually uses Amazon Servers).
With our white-label 3D Printing service we often work with online marketplaces, stores and other 3D Print services. These companies get the benefit of large scale production at very low cost while still maintaining control of their brand and customer relationships.
More Capacity for 3D Printing Services
With partners like MakeXYZ we serve as an overflow and production partner. While MakeXYZ services many orders in house that come through their prototype service, they don't always have the capacity to meet large unit demands and tighter deadlines.
In this situation Slant 3D would be able to take on production of certain components and ship them directly to the client under the MakeXYZ brand. This gives MakeXYZ the ability to provide large scale production reliably to their clients but focus on other prioroties within the company. Slant 3D serves as backup infrastructure.
This same solution works well for marketplaces during seasonal rushes. At Christmas many online stores that sell 3D Printed objects can be overwhelmed by the demand. Again Slant 3D is able to provide overflow production for those companies over a short period of time to ensure they can fulfill all orders in a timely matter. This is very common for Etsy and Ebay Stores or other similar small businesses.
In all of these situations Slant 3D would be invisilbe. All packaging and Branding would be that of the marketplace or store that we are servicing. The end customer would never be aware of the difference.
Never Need Inhouse 3D Printers.
This is also very common for the online marketplaces. Many designers and product creators want to focus on design. Operating 3D Printers can can quickly become a drudgery, as well as a large expense.
Slant 3D is able to serve as the manufacturing backend through our whitelabel 3D Printing service. Producing parts on demand, placing them in custom packaging, and fulfilling orders. Customers only see the branding and identity of the marketplace. They will never know that the parts came from a Slant 3D facility.
This solution has been utilized by stores like Bakerstreet Cutters, which makes custom cookie cutters. Slant 3D stores custom packaging merchant and when orders come in they are fulfilled.
This is ideal for these stores. They are able to focus on new products while all production and fulfillment is kept out of sight and out of mind.
How to Do It
Plan for Preparation
It is important to note that preparation is key to a good white-label solution. If you are in a hurry there is a danger that parts will not be made identical to those made in-house. Slant 3D will need colors, print profiles, and accurate quality specs to ensure that we producing parts that match your brand and business.
If you want to explore using Slant 3D as a white label 3D Printing service then reach out to us through our quoting form. Include common objects on your store and include your expected volumes. An account engineer will then get in contact with you and we will work with you to tailor pricing and integration to your business.
3D Printing is on average less expensive than injection molding up to about 100,000 pieces. If you are making more parts than that in a production run then a mold might be advisable. (Though you should also consider the Just In Time Supply benefits of 3D Printing as well). But that is just an average. So what are ways to optimize a product for mass production with 3D Printing. Here are a few tips
This is by far the most important component, to 3D Printing or any other manufacturing process. Any product design has to be optimized to the 3D Printing process to be made the most cost effectively.
For FDM production 3D Printing the general rule is Fatter, Rounder, Thicker. This is often difficult for designers to adapt to. Injection molding is often the exact opposite (i.e. Thinner, flatter, straighter). But since 3D Printing allows so much control of the properties of a part, volume is irrelevant and the geometry changes often allow the 3D Printed parts to have better performance than a traditionally manufactured part.
Here are more details on design for FDM Production 3D Printing
3D Printing has no MOQ. You can make one piece or millions. And while this seems obvious any increase in volume decreases the per unit cost of production.
We are often asked by clients what are the volume cutoffs for price breaks. At Slant 3D there are none. Basically any increase in quantity decreases the unit cost. It is a curve not a set of stairs. And how steeply that curve drops the prices is entirely dependent on the product.
Since 3D Printing does not have to to produce an entire run of one part at a time the way injection molding does, we instead can produce partial runs of dozens of parts at a time. This not only ensures that a project can launch on time, it will in fact decrease inventory costs on the client side.
This is how it would work. A client might request 10,000 parts for the project. But they only need 1000 per month. Rather than producing all of the pieces in a bulk shipment, Slant 3D would dedicate a smaller amount of capacity to just making 1000 units per month and shipping on a set date. The benefit to Slant 3D is more predictability in production scheduling and the clients has lower inventory carrying costs since they only have 1000 pieces on shelves at any given time not 10,000 collecting dust. Thought sometimes extra shipping charges can offset the cost benefits.
Longer Production Time Using Excess Capacity
Plan ahead. Rushed orders are expensive orders. And while any project will have an expected timeline within the normal production flow, longer lead times can be great cost saving options. And 3D Printing allows these to be achieved much more easily without always delaying a project.
Historically most products have a defined lead time. This is because the client has to be able to plan the launch. And the manufacturer has to produce all the units in one go. 3D Printing is not so stringent. Especially 3D Printing Farms. We have hundreds of machines working on hundreds of projects at any given time. Each machine could be working on any of the active projects. For example, if there is a rush order, most of the capacity could be pointed toward production of that single order, and then the next day switched to the next order in the queue.
But even more common than rushed orders are intermittently used equipment. Since manufacturing is often cyclical some equipment may be unused or kept for overflow purposes. This is called "excess capacity." (Most factories seek to operate at at 85-90% capacity, the extra 10% is for spikes in demand).
If a project has no set lead time then it can be produced on that excess capacity. This allows production capacity to be utilized more effectively and decrease machine down time. The tradeoff is that at any time your project production could be usurped if that capacity has to be utilized for priority clients. So in return for allowing us to utilize our factories more effectively and possibly having a longer lead time, we are able to discount the machine-time component of production.
Slant 3D Helped Haddington Dynamics Produce Their Advanced robot Arms. Now they have Sold for 25 Million Dollars.
Haddington Dynamics started out with a Kickstarter for a DIY advanced collaborative robot called Dexter. The arm used a new type of control chip and advanced dynamics to attain very high precision at a very low cost.
The Kickstarter was successful with Haddington gaining $108,000 dollars in preorders. But there was a problem. They did not have the capacity to fulfill them. So they reached out to Slant 3D in 2017 and our large scale 3D Printing farms. So started a long relationship. Slant 3D ended up producing thousands of parts for Haddington that met the quality and scale that they needed as they grew. And along the way they transitioned from standard plastic components to Carbon Fiber Re-enforced parts.
Today we are very happy to see Haddington hit a new milestone by being purchased by British online supermarket Ocado. Haddington's technology will be deployed as a way to help with warehouse management and distribution.
Haddington was purchased for 25 million dollars in cash and stock and can look forward to having their 3D Printed robot arms helping to delivery groceries to thousands of happy customers.
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.