3D Printing vs. Injection Molding

 

How one should choose the right method which will scale along their business? Here we’ll explore the pros and cons of two popular types of manufacturing technologies. 3D Printing and Injection Molding are very common to each other since both of the technologies have the same objective of manufacturing an object with the addition of the material. Injection Molding or 3D printing can both serve the same purpose of rapid development of a design or a prototype.

Though, 3D Printing has made life easier. Prototypes that used to cost thousands of dollars and days to produce can now be done overnight at a “relatively” low costs. 

It has been common word out there that 3D printing is a good alternative to injection molding for rapid prototyping. What percentage of this is true, let’s discuss today.

 

Unit Production Costs & Order Volume

Production cost difference between injection molding and 3D Printing depends upon many factors among which the intended “number of manufactured parts” is the most important.

Before progression of a product, you are more likely to design its test-prototype. Once you finalize the design, all you need to do is print the object into its final form. This whole cycle has a different approach towards cost when it comes to 3D printing and injection molding.

When it comes to unit prices, the unit costs of manufacturing the parts with 3D pritning stay constant irrespective to the increase in the quantity.  

When it comes to low volume production 3D printing serves to be the best option in terms of costs. Whereas, if the number of parts increases the break even point then injection molded parts cost tends to reduce with a significance. Injection molding is ideal for rapidly producing very large numbers of identical parts with tight tolerances.

We have designed the following graph to compare the unit costs for both technologies:

3d-printing-1

Following factors that affect production unit price:

  • The number of units produced
  • The volume of the 3D printed object
  • The complexity of the object’s design

Manufacturing Time

The procedure for manufacturing a single part with injection molding is much faster than the same part done with 3D Printing. This is because 3D printing manufactures the models layer by layer, where as injection molding uses a melted plastic to inject under pressure to fill a mould which is a matter of minutes or even seconds depending upon the size of the object.

3d-printing-2

printed mold can be used for approximately 30 – 100 runs which depends on the material being injected along with the material and the kind of 3D printing technology and material used to produc the mold.

Material requirments of Injection molding process from 3D Printed molds are as follows:

  • High heat deflection temperature
  • High stiffness required to reduce the wear caused by repetetive process
  • Accuracy and level of detail

 

Manufacturing Time

The procedure for manufacturing a single part with injection molding is much faster than the same part done with 3D Printing. This is because 3D printing manufactures the models layer by layer, where as injection molding uses a melted plastic to inject under pressure to fill a mould which is a matter of minutes or even seconds depending upon the size of the object.

 

Customization & Iterations

Able to iterate and maintain agility is the key for any successful product prototyping. Spending a few thousand dollars on a mold which limits any changes for improving our product will most likely slow down our innovation cycle and cost us. When it comes to customization then 3D printing wins the race here because if offers a virtual format of the object in which you can easily make customization as well as do modification which is most probably impossible in injection molding.

3d-printing-3

Complexity

Complexity of the object can drastically affect the manufacturing procedure so it is up to you to opt the best suitable technology for production. Choice is completely depending upon the model we have in mind and the output that we are expecting. When we want a hard engineering constraints and tolerances, injection molding wins. Where as, 3D Printing know complexity. Every design is possible with 3D Printing due to its layer by laye structure. 3D printing can be creative alongside giving you a freedom on possibilities on complex designs.

 

Quality & Finish of parts Manufactured.

3D Printed prototypes are not typically finished parts. Due to its layer by layer manufacturing the resolution of prints can’t match with Injection molded parts. They require machining or sanding to remove small rough jagged edges. Moreover, the printed holes must be post processed for better accuracy.

On the other hand, injection molding is an industrial grade manufacturing technology which is made to provide high quality and final end market products with great finishes with quality of details.

 

Conclusion

Like injection molding, 3D printing also has its downsides. Today, many 3D printing processes are expensive, slow, and may produce parts that are not up to industry quality or material standards.

Well, each of the two technologies have their own use coming along with their pros and cons. Depending upon your budget, time and requirement you can choose either. We at Proto21 can guide you through and help you decide what technology is best suited for your project. Contact us now.

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