3D printing has proven to be a highly effective and accurate manufacturing method that has a tremendous potential in a wide range of different industries. There is some debate about whether 3d printing has become more cost-effective and efficient than traditional production methods like plastic injection molding, but what most are failing to realize is that one compliments the other.
In the current industry, a majority of plastic parts are still being produced by injection molding, and 3d printing has slowly integrated into this process in order to decrease the chance of error during the actual production of the product. Although plastic injection molding has been in use since 1872, advanced methods of structuring mock designs of products, such as 3d printing have only been around for the past decade.
3D printers offer unique advantages compared to plastic injection molding by itself
3D printers have proven to be a competitive aspect in the production of plastic compared to plastic injection molding in and of itself – particularly when there are smaller volumes of parts that need to be produced. As a general rule in manufacturing, the more parts that are produced with a particular method, the lower the cost of each part. This rule is particularly true for plastic injection molding. It costs a substantial amount of money to create a plastic injection system for a particular part. Knowing that the accuracy of your product has been increased since it’s initial mock up design using 3d printing, can be an effective way for increasing ROI and improving overall product quality.
20 3D printers can be purchased for the cost of one plastic injection system
3D printing offers the advantage of a lower cost for each production system. Approximately 20 3D printers can be purchased for the cost of one plastic injection molding system, and the price of using each machine is similar in ratio.
This allows producers to invest less money upfront and spend that money on other aspects of their operation once their desired design has been approved. Investing in plastic injection molding is not feasible for smaller product lines and becomes prohibitively expensive. It is this particular area where 3D printing has a distinct advantage against plastic injection molding by itself, but that advantage declines once volume increases.
3D printers have the biggest advantage with low volume printing
With the high initial investment costs for plastic injection systems, 3D printers offer the greatest price per part advantage at a volume of 1-1000, as one study found. The advantage started to decline, however, once production volume reached the 10,000 mark. The study found that only the most efficient 3D printing method – using a single operator running 20 printers with “lights off” production methods – can complete with traditional injection molding production.
The cost per part advantage significantly declined at the 10,000 mark even with this ultra-efficient 3D printing method, while traditional companies that produce plastic parts with injection molding could fairly easily reach that production level without having to change their operations much.
The biggest cost benefit at the moment for 3D printing is at a part volume of 1-1000, and that seems to be where it will prove to have the biggest impact in the near future.