You have probably heard the term of ‘additive manufacturing’ if you’ve looked into trends lately. The global market is in the billions for earnings, and many industries have added the type of manufacturing to increase durability and performance of products, manufacture components and assemblies faster, and continue to push the possibilities of new designs.
Every industry uses additive manufacturing a little differently, and that includes injection molding. The two types of manufacturing are similar in nature, but they can’t be used as an equivalent or as an interchangeable option. If you’re unsure of what falls under each type of manufacturing, we’ll break down what each is and how they are related.
What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive Manufacturing covers a wide-range of manufacturing methods, but most would probably recognize it for the most popular option of 3D printing. There are now desktop sized units that can print multiple types of filaments ranging from PLA, PTEG, and carbon-fiber reinforced PTEG just to name a few. 3D printing of a melted plastic filament looks similar to a normal ink printer as it is connected to a computer utilizing Computer-Aided Design (abbreviated CAD) software.
Beyond 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing also covers other technologies to increase capability:
- Rapid Prototyping
- Direct Digital Manufacturing
- Additive Fabrication
- Layered Manufacturing
You may see each used in place of each other as these types of manufacturing are very similar. As mentioned, additive manufacturing has become an avenue that many industries have used to create better components and assemblies. You can find 3D printed parts utilized in military applications, in medical labs, and in lower volume products available in stores nationwide.
There are many industries utilizing Additive Manufacturing. Military, pharmaceutical, and consumer products are just three of the many industries utilizing prototyping to bring products to life faster, cheaper, and with better characteristics. One you may not think of is injection molding. Injection molding and 3D printing seem like they would be at odds with each other, but in truth Additive Manufacturing can benefit injection molding in many ways.
How Can Additive Manufacturing Benefit Injection Molding?
Most would ask what the benefit of utilizing Additive Manufacturing for injection molding would be. The simple answer is the reduction of time and money. Additive Manufacturing, or more specifically rapid prototyping, can be used to gauge improvements with a design, to test the manufacturability of part, an assembly, or to make low volume production components. Rapid prototyping can be done for plastic and metal parts, which can be directly used in injection molding tools. The processes are a lower cost option compared to a manufacturing process with complete injection molding dies. The outcome is a small quantity parts can be made faster and cheaper.
The ability to make a small quantity of parts, whether by rapid prototype or injection molding, is a competitive advantage that has many applications. Each can offer your business an opportunity for improvement on your next project. These are some of the reasons that you may want to use Additive Manufacturing to aid an injection molding project:
- Lower Cost – The ability to make specialized details, or just some prototype samples, can take significant investment if you create injection molding dies from aluminum or steel. You may need only five samples, or need to create specialized details that would take weeks or months for a high volume application. A rapid prototype can be made for a fraction of the cost and in record time.
- Easier Design Changes – With rapid prototypes you can made changes to the design between each part, which can help prove the design before the first metal chips are created making a high-volume injection molding tool.
- Less Waste – Making a handful of parts with an injection mold creates more waste than you want. You have to heat the mold, purge material to ensure all air has been removed, create the parts, then re-purge the mold and molding machine again to remove the material. That is a lot of wasted effort and resin for just a few parts. A rapid prototype, such as 3D printing, can create just the parts without heating a larger machine and purging resin.
- Lower Energy Costs – The injection molding machines aren’t small. Even the smallest of machines are still the size of an adult human being. A rapid prototype machine, even on a larger scale, may be half the size of the injection molding machine. It will also not require pumps to move coolant through the injection mold, nor will it require the large heaters to melt resin inside the barrel. A rapid prototype machine may only use half of the energy of the larger molding machine, if not less.
- Employee Training – Trained employees are a valuable asset to have in your business, but in most cases training to assemble or to produce parts requires actual parts. If you’re training 20 employees it may make sense to produce hundreds of parts so each new employee has multiple parts to learn with. But what if you have 2 employees? Making the same amount of parts may be wasteful. Rapid prototyping could produce 20 parts faster than injection molding for a fraction of the cost, yet still provide the same training opportunity.
The Best Option for Your Project
We offer ten different variations and methods for creating a rapid prototype sample. Each offer advantages based on the material you need to use, the accuracy of the dimensions, and the surface finish required. All can add a benefit for your next injection molding project, from simple samples to saving investment cost. Finding the best rapid prototyping option for your product can be a tough decision. When you’re ready to work with our elite team that produces world-class prototypes and products, call (425) 339-0288 or email us at email@example.com. We look forward to offering support and advice on your next project.
Matthias Poischbeg was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Matt moved to Everett, Wash., after finishing his bachelor’s degree in business in 1995 to work for Sea-Dog Corporation, a manufacturer, and distributor of marine and rigging hardware established in 1923.
In 1999, Matt took over the reins at Sea-Lect Plastics Corporation, a sister company of Sea-Dog and a manufacturer of plastic injection molded products with an in-house tool & die shop. Matthias Poischbeg is also a contributor to Grit Daily.