For manufacturers focused on plastic components and products, injection molding has long been the standard and preferred method. In recent years, however, new techniques, like 3D printing, have started to gain traction. While 3D printing and injection molding are often seen as competing technologies, the two methods are very different and each come with their own specific advantages and disadvantages.
Choosing the correct manufacturing method for your products is a big decision, and there is no single technique that is perfect for all applications.
When choosing between 3D printing and injection molding, there are several factors that you should keep in mind in order to make the best decision for your business:
There is a large upfront investment with injection molding, as reusable molds used to build thousands of parts can cost anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The size of the press and quality of metal used to create the mold will be a major factor in the final mold price. Once a mold is finished, however, the cost of injection molding will be evened out as volume increases because material and labor costs are minimal.
When looking at 3D printing, there will be no initial cost for a mold, as this technique uses a digital file which can be altered by a computer. The primary costs in 3D printing production come from purchasing the high-tech printers, material cost, manufacturing time, and labor to run the machines.
There will always be a point, depending on cost per unit and number of units, in which injection molding will be more cost effective. In order to determine which method is ultimately more economical, you will need to find that breakeven point for your production plan and then proceed with the best option.
For highly complex products (think lots of unique shapes and edges), 3D printing will be the ideal method, whereas products that are uniform in shape and that deal with engineering tolerances will be better suited for injection molding.
It is also important to be mindful of changes. If you are expecting multiple iterations, you will want to use 3D printing, as you can simply alter the digital file to make changes. If you have a frozen design that will not undergo further iterations, injection molding could be a good choice.
Time to market is a huge factor for many companies, especially in the medical device industry. Designing and then procuring a prototype, requesting quotes and finalizing cost, and subsequently developing the perfect mold, can be very time-intensive. Injection molding of new devices or components to production-ready status typically takes a long time as a result.
With 3D printing, once you have the design, you can have a part ready for evaluation in as little time as it takes to print the object, ranging from hours to a day or two with post processing adding some part specific handling .
If you are hoping to have a component ready for test, as production equivalent, within a matter of days, 3D printing is the best option. If the timeline allows additional leeway, up to months, to have a high volume solution, then injection molding would be a viable choice.
There are new 3D printing technologies and techniques emerging every day, and our team is committed to staying on the leading edge of the industry with our latest service offerings.
We are currently in the process of implementing groundbreaking 3D printing technology from Carbon, Inc. to create production grade parts using medical grade materials and tolerances to accelerate both the device development and the component manufacturing cycle.