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The molding industry and 3D printing: key applications

The molding industry and 3D printing: key applications

in News

What are the possibilities today with additive manufacturing tools and how can they be used for businesses to be more competitive? What are the benefits and how can the implementation of these technologies impact your workflow?

When discussing on additive manufacturing, the process is often described as an alternative to the traditional means of production for the future. A future in which everything would be made with 3D printing.

However, even tough 3D is considered only as a tool allowing a large-scale production in a not-so-distant future, important applications that can already be realized in the present are missed out. Additive manufacturing is already proving to be a very useful tool in the molding industry: it is worth exploring its various applications and technologies to improve your own workflow.

The fact that today additive manufacturing is not always used directly in the production of final parts does not mean that it cannot play an important role in the development of parts.

Potential Applications of 3D Printing in the Molding Industry

There are many different technologies and materials: each 3D printing technology is a tool with different properties and capabilities, and each has a specific method of operation that you need to be aware of in order to produce the parts that meet your intended purpose.

We will have a look at some of the possible applications. The choice of the most appropriate tool to achieve it will depend on the intended and potential use of the equipment.

 

Prototyping
Direct production of final parts
Equipment
3D Molds
Eggshell
Key feature: reducing the development cycle

 

Prototyping

Prototyping has been one of the main functions of additive manufacturing since its beginning, initially called “rapid prototyping.” Obtaining parts without the use of tools has reduced development time and costs, but it’s not just a convenience for designers. Having a physical representation of the object to be produced before the mold and equipment needed to make it are created is also helpful for the development of these tools. In many cases, production is outsourced and carried out in different parts of the world. The ability of 3D to edit a file, send it and be directly capable of manufacturing the part in a few hours anywhere in the world improves the workflow, efficiency, and communication between companies.

 

zoom

Print volume optimization

Direct production of final parts

Thanks to the flexibility offered by 3D printing, a better understanding of additive technologies and significant technical improvements, there are now more and more proposals for direct 3D printed final parts.

Being able to offer solutions for the production of pre-production, small batches or even 3D printed replacement parts at the end of a product’s life cycle represents a great opportunity for companies providing injection molding services, as it can increase their portfolio of services, allowing them to maintain and expand their customer base. Consider, for example, the benefit of being able to offer a potential new customer a 3D printed pre-production item while waiting for full-scale production. 3D printing also allows small-scale production to be done retrospectively, without the need to store and archive molds and equipment (storage space, maintenance, set-up and MOQ).

 

Which 3D printers can be used for this application?

Formlabs: Fuse 1

3D Systems: Figure 4

For internal use

A very interesting application of 3D printing is in the manufacture of equipment, and thus obtaining lighter, simpler and cheaper tools. In many cases, 3D printing can be used to make tools that simplify and improve the work experience that, due to cost and complexity, were not being manufactured.

 

Among the few applications possible with 3D printing: inspection gauges, spare parts for machines, tools for assembly and production, lines, control devices for CMMs, grippers and ejectors for robotic arms, or ergonomic tools.

 

From a CAD file, thanks to 3D additive manufacturing, it is possible to easily create complex geometries, print them in a few hours and obtain a component ready to be installed, directly in-house a : this is a competitive advantage for any company. In addition, assembling is cleaner, faster and simpler, reducing the number of components and the weight of the assembly.

 

Which 3D printers can be used for this application?

Markforged: X7 and Metal X

zoom

Clamp

zoom

Suction pad on molded part with internal ducts

3D printed molds

As already mentioned, 3D printing is very versatile because the printed part is made directly from the CAD file and does not require any tooling. But not all materials are available, and not all geometries and volumes are feasible.

 

For example, it is possible to use 3D printed parts to test a design, but for further validation, you may need a series of parts manufactured directly with the technology and material that will be used in final production. Whether it’s for pre-production runs, small batches, a custom batch, or simply to be more flexible in design and testing, 3D printing a mold can make many processes faster and more accessible.

There are several technologies that make 3D printing of molds possible, and each uses a different approach. Therefore, it is important to know how these molds will be used, what features they should have and what requirements they should meet.

There are resins capable of withstanding temperatures between 200 and 300ºC, which allow 3D printing molds to manufacture a limited number of parts, with a reduction in time and cost that make them very versatile tools for making prototypes or small series.

 

We can’t neglect metal molds either. Thanks to the possibility of making complex geometries and the geometric freedom inherent in 3D, it is possible to manufacture parts with complex conduits and internal geometries, with conformal cooling channels inside the mold. When comparing production costs, it is important to consider the greater efficiency of this type of mold.

 

Which 3D printers can be used for this application?

3D Systems: ProJet 2500 Plus and DMP Flex 500

Formlabs: Form 3

zoom

Section of metal-printed mold with internal ducts

Eggshell, a new concept

There is a derivative application of the molds. It is the 3D printing of a sacrificial mold followed by the subsequent injection of silicone, called Eggshell, and then the breaking of the mold after the injection to remove the part. It is a combination of several concepts: 3D printing of a mold and 3D printing of a sacrificial model (jewelry/foundry).

 

Among the advantages of this application: it allows the encapsulation of components, the realization of housings and protective covers, the use of different materials of different hardnesses, which is very useful to realize, for example, sealing devices.

 

Which 3D printers can be used for this application?

3D Systems: Figure 4

zoom

Mold printed in Eggshell next to the final part

Reducing the design cycle, the main strength of 3D printing

The parts shown were designed and produced with the right tools and design for the technology used.

 

All of the applications above are of great value and, if used properly, lead to a reduction in the design cycle, which allows for faster production, encourages innovation and stimulates work.

 

The advantage of 3D printing is that it can be used in many other applications and offers many other opportunities, provided you are familiar with the technology. A period of learning, training and adaptation is important, but the benefits of working with the right tools more than make up for this commitment. The use of additive manufacturing offers versatile manufacturing capabilities: production directly from CAD files, the ability to easily modify the design and customize it, geometric freedom, weight reduction, reduction in the number of components or assemblies. It allows for on-demand production. It encourages innovation, reducing lead times, costs and bottlenecks. Moreover, in the medium term, additive manufacturing will have a major impact on logistics, thanks to its ability to “teleport” objects.

 

There are a multitude of areas in which additive manufacturing can be used. More and more companies are interested in 3D printing. 3DZ is an expert consultant on the main 3D printing technologies on the market and can help your company choose the most suitable solution. Want to know how? Ask one of our experts to evaluate the feasibility of your application.

Want to learn more? Contact us to find out which technology best suits your needs.

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