4 reasons to think twice about 3D printing

Like all manufacturing techniques, 3D printing has its place.  The ability to realise a good representation of a 3D CAD file without any tooling, in a reasonable time and in a similar material to the possible production, has value no doubt.  If production is intended as an injection moulded thermoplastic part however, then there is nothing like the real thing.  By that we mean a real injection moulded part produced in a steel mould, in the exact polymer and colour of the production part.  The functional convenience of 3D printed parts has to be considered before any commitment to commissioning one as a substitute to injection moulding.  The technology is not the panacea of low volume manufacture and can never deliver the capabilities of the real thing.

‘3D printing’ is a much abused and misleading title for the range of additive technologies, but it has captivated some under informed and overenthusiastic journalists who now believe that we can 3D print a whole new world – this is not helped by those in the industry who overstate the capability of these technologies.

Reason 1 – If you want a prototype part that is truly representational of the production item and not just indicative; a similar shape in a similar material of questionable strength, then the only solution is 4P.  Precision – Prototype – Plastic – Parts

Reason 2 – 3D printing can be very expensive to get a surface quality close to that of an injection moulded part.  If you manage that – it will not be as durable.  It will be the result of much hand work and surface decoration.  If you want a truly transparent part, think again unless you want to pay for lots of polishing.  If you want fine detail, again there are limitations that only real injection moulded parts can produce.  If you want the strength, matched colour, surface finish, weight, thin wall thickness of the real part then 3D printing cannot deliver.

Reason 3 – 3D printing can produce parts that cannot be tooled for injection moulding and there are more than a few product designers that still forget that the mould must open (somehow) for the part to be ejected.  If you want to do assembly trials, then ask about dimensional accuracy and perhaps then think again.

Reason 4 – In as little as 10 days we can deliver your T0 injection moulded parts, from steel moulds, in the correct colour-matched polymer required and with the surface finish you need.  From the 3-D CAD that you supply to us we perform a DFM and provide a summary report advising you of the tooling and production viability of your model, we can also provide you with a full Moldflow analysis too if you wish.

On approval of the DFM the clock starts ticking, additional services can also be included such as insert moulding, plating, printing, coating and even 100K clean room moulding. If modifications are required after receiving the T0 parts the mould is modified probably as quickly as the CAD can be revised – or “tweaked”.  Unlike 3D printing, our principals delivering this service have been doing it for 20 years and throughout the process you get to deal with real human beings, not an automated self-driven website.  

Much myth is publicised that ‘3D printing’ is low cost and that injection moulding is only viable for high quantities, it’s time to rethink.  Piece prices of less than £1 are common, even for short production runs and small quantities, and with the possibility of producing up to 20,000 parts from the same mould the costs for small batch manufacturing is attractive too.

All manufacturing technologies have their place, however 3D printing CANNOT replicate the capabilities of an injection moulded part. 

No doubt 3D printing can produce a part in a shorter time than our 4P service, but is 10 days really too long to wait for the real thing??

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