by: Mike McLean
Known throughout the world as a prototyping tool, 3D printing continues to accelerate time to market for a number of businesses. While an amazing leap forward from the clay models of yesterday, contemporary 3D printing is widely recognized as having shortcomings in a manufacturing environment: slow speed, a limited material palette and high cost.
Interestingly, an application known for it’s speed, material variety and low-cost has begun quietly benefitting from 3D printing technology: Injection molding.
By far the largest current application of 3D printing is in the plastics market. When evaluating the quality of a 3D printed part the de facto benchmark is an injection molded piece. In the sales cycle one often hears the objections, “3D printed parts don’t have REAL material properties,” or “3D printing will never have the throughput of injection molding.” The thing is, 3D printing is perfectly complimentary to the injection molding process through the use of rapid tooling.
The parts produced on 3D printed molds use the same production thermoplastics as end use parts, effectively filling the gap for short-run, low-volume production parts. Direct printed tooling is by far the fastest way to validate a design and nicely enables a lean manufacturers digital inventory.
Virtually any thermoplastic can be injected in 3D printed tooling:
Liquid Crystal Polymers (LCP)
The chart below illustrates the tooling options available for injection molding. Printed tooling neatly falls into the niche between RTV tooling and soft tooling; producing low-cost parts in real thermoplastics in a matter of days.
On a recent project, I was able to witness the performance of direct printed tooling first-hand. Running parts in a proprietary material sealed the capability in my customers mind and demonstrated the power of 3D printing to radically alter the product development landscape.
In my next article, discover opportunities to improve the performance of conventional tooling through the use of conformal cooling and Direct Metal Printing.
To find out more contact Mike McLean at Scarlett 3D Printing