Aug 22, 2016

3-D Printing's Role in the Manufacturing Industry

One of the most interesting forms of prototyping and manufacturing is 3-D printing in large part because it is so new to the consumer space. Many are wondering if this new, cheap form of manufacturing is going to push traditional methods such as injection molding out of the space and make it obsolete. Here's a deeper look at 3-D printing and its role in the manufacturing industry.

Injection Molding vs. 3-D Printing

The short answer is no. Both injection and 3-D printing have their strengths and weaknesses.
Injection molding has the advantage of being able to make many objects at a single time very quickly. These objects also can be made out of a lot of different materials that have a variety of features in terms of their strength and durability. Where this method falls short, though, is the high initial cost of the machine, which can be prohibitive to smaller businesses.

On the other side, 3-D printing is considerably cheaper to start using. In fact, depending on the size and resolution needed, several can be bought for the price of an injection molding machine. Also, depending on the size of the parts being made, multiple objects could be printed in each machine, which helps offset the relatively slower per piece time that 3-D printing requires. Another advantage is that the designs can quickly be changed if a problem is discovered. One disadvantage of 3-D printing is that the items have an inherent weakness because they are made out of individual layers that are laid down on top of one another. This means that if a perpendicular force is applied to the layers, it has an increased chance of being damaged.

Hybrid Methods

A good solution to each method's challenges is to combine the best parts of them. For example, 3-D printers can be used to make the molds needed for injection molding. The combination works especially well for small businesses because they can cut some of the costs and time needed for traditional manufacturing.

Printed molds are not as sturdy as aluminium ones, but they can be more cost efficient when only a few hundred or so parts are needed. Only minor design changes need to be made between an aluminium and 3-D printed mold because of the differences in thermal properties for cooling the objects. Both types of materials can withstand the heat needed for injection molding, so businesses can still use the same range of materials, such as Viton or flueorocarbons, that traditional injection molding requires.

Neither 3-D printing nor injection molding are going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, businesses need to think more about choosing the right method for the materials they need and how long it will take to create a final product. Especially for small and medium-sized businesses that are too big for 3-D printer farms, a hybrid method may be a great solution.

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