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.