Creating Your Product Through Molds: 3D Printing Vs. Injection Molding
You have your product prototype in hand and it’s ready for launch – but how are you going to scale from that one single unit to thousands at a time?
There are a number of factors to consider when it’s time for you to scale the manufacturing of your product, and it all starts with manufacturing a plastic mold of your product.For plastics molding, you generally have two choices:
This process is one of the oldest manufacturing processes which is renowned for producing a lot of product in a short amount of time.
For this method, mold material (like thermoplastic) is injected into a metal mold. The thermoplastic then takes the shape of the mold cavity, is cooled, and is released as a solid part.
As quick as this method can be, it does have one major drawback: the cost. Injection molding requires a substantial upfront investment, costing inventors anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to well over $100,000. If your product requires multiple or modified parts, it can be incredibly if not impossibly expensive for an inventor to utilize.
3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is the newer kid on the block when it comes to molding. This process adds materials together to create the final product as opposed to cutting away material (milling) or reshaping it (injection molding).
There are a number of benefits that come with 3D printing:
- Customized parts can be produced with no upfront cost
- Parts can be built from a single digital file
- 3D printing can be used to produce shapes which would otherwise be costly or impossible through other manufacturing methods
With that said, 3D printing isn’t the answer for every product. In some instances, the process may be slow, costly, and the parts produced may not meet industry material or quality standards.
There’s No Perfect Molding Method for Every Part and Product
Both methods are ideal for on-demand productions, pilot and test runs, functional prototyping and bridge tooling. But one method is not necessarily better than the other.
When weighing between your plastic molding options, the two major factors that need to be considered are:
The unit cost for a product designed through injection molding has a higher upfront expensive because of the costs associated with making the mold. But with each and every product you manufacture, the unit cost decreases as the initial mold cost is being spread across to another unit.
The “no upfront costs” associated with 3D printing make it an attractive option to inventors because there is little to no financial barrier. Because the costs do not decrease over time, however, this option makes more financial sense for smaller product runs or “test” molding.
Other Important Considerations
Depending on your product, there could be other considerations to be made when choosing between injection molding and 3D printing, such as:
How complex is your product?
You should choose the method that is most suitable for making your design. If your product features unique or creative, complex shapes, 3D printing will likely be the best choice for your product.
How much time does the product take to produce?
Production time is another important consideration. J-CAD Inc. is renowned for our quick turn-around times, with many products being in our clients’ hands within one week of them making their very first phone call to us!
How easy is it to modify your product?
Being able to iterate and change your product idea is critical at the beginning of your product development journey. Spending a few thousand dollars on an injection mold that will likely need changes is not only costly, but it can bring your innovation cycle to a grinding halt. If your product is ready to scale, then that same process may be more appropriate than 3D printing.
Wide Selection of Metal Mold Materials
There are a variety of materials available for creating your mold, each of which comes with its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.
QC7/QC10 Mold Aluminum
This high-impact aluminum is a popular choice for two reasons:
- It’s quick and easy to machine
- It retains its CNC milling tool life (the amount of cutting time you get from the tool after it can no longer be used)
This includes steels such as stainless steel, A2, D2, and S7. These steels must been hardened after machining to ensure that they have maximum Rockwell Hardness. Inventors typically choose these steels for molds when there are cores, slides, and where durable strength is needed for their product.
Pre-Hardened 4140 Mold Steel
Easy to machine and generally not needing to be hardened, pre-hardened 4140 mold steel maintains good tolerances without the heat changes necessary in tool steel hardening.
Aluminum copper is a leading choice for products involving motion because of its superior durability. It is often used for slides and core pulls.
Different Types of Molding Machines
There are a number of different molding machine types used for injection molding processes, all of which may fall under one of the following driving system categories:
- Electric (EMT)
Hydraulic Molding Machines
This type of machine was the only option until electric molding machines were first launched in 1983, and they continue to be the most widely used type of machine for injection molding worldwide. While efficient, hydraulic molding machines are less precise than other options.
Mechanical Molding Machines
Mechanical molding machines use a toggle system which builds up tonnage on a clamp beside the machine (this prevents the machine from opening due to the injection pressure).
Electric Molding Machines
Also known as electric machine technology, these machines are faster, quieter and they are more accurate than other machine types. Because they can operate using less energy, they can also help inventors reduce their operation costs.
Pneumatic Molding Machines
These machines use air pressure to build up tonnage on the clamp situated along the side of the machine.
Both electric and pneumatic molding machines often use a robotic arm to remove molded components by side or top entry, though parts are usually dropped out of the mold, travel down a chute and are deposited into a container.
What About CNC Machining?
Automated CNC (short for Computer Numerical Control) machines are devices that our industry uses to create components without the need of any human assistance. Coded instructions are sent to a computer which tells the machines how to build parts quickly and precisely.
There are a variety of CNC machines available, including:
- Milling machines
These machines may also include CNC routers which can be used to make cuts in a variety of different materials using water, plasma and lasers.CNC machines come with a number of benefits:
- Machines can operate independently and be combined into an entire cell of tooling machines
- Machines are driven completely by digital designs and can operate continuously for days without any human intervention
- They are incredibly precise, offering a level of detail which is impossible if using older tools
Despite the benefits, it is important that CNC machining can be a costly process. This is because of the technology involved and the skilled workforce required to operate them.
What You Need For Your 3D Mold Design
Ready to manufacture your product? Here’s how you can get started:
- Have your idea ready
The more details you can provide your J-CAD Inc. design expert, the better we will be able to manufacture it. We will work with you to draw out your ideas, though we welcome drawings from inventors as well.
- Know what’s in store
What you pay for your mold will change based on the different elements you choose to incorporate into your product. We offer free quotes to anyone who is interested in developing their idea and will work with you to create affordable and manufacturable products.
- Sit back and let us do the work!
J-CAD Inc. is your one-stop production shop. From the earliest computer aided design (CAD) drafting stages to mass production, we will take those product ideas from your first initial sketches and transform them into high-quality products in as little as one week!
Have a project in mind and don’t know where to start? Let J-CAD Inc. help. Contact us online or call us today for a no-obligation quote at 1-888-202-2052!