3D Printing and Injection Molding: Dynamic Duo Cuts Tooling Costs, Speeds Time to Market

The number of potential applications for 3D printing seems to grow on a daily basis. There’s almost nothing these additive manufacturing machines can’t build. They take nearly all traditional constraints out of the manufacturing equation, enabling the creation of products of nearly any shape and complexity. Even the materials used—which was originally quite limited—seem to be increasing daily.

One exciting new use of 3D printing is in the creation of injection molds for the manufacture of plastic parts. Injection modeling is used to make a wide variety of parts, from small components to super-large parts, such as truck body panels. It’s done by designing and precision machining a mold to form the features of the desired part.

The injection molding occurs when a plastic material is fed into a heated barrel, mixed and then forced into the metal mold cavity where it cools and hardens before being removed. Might sound easy, but it’s actually a complicated process that requires very precise tooling. What makes it even trickier is that there’s no way to “see” inside the cavity of the mold to assess and fix issues that occur during the process.

Can 3D printing help lower the cost of mold design?

Manufacturers are under the gun to constantly drive down costs. One way to tackle that issue is replacing traditional means of mold making with 3D printing. A recent partnership announced between a design bureau Worrell and Stratasys will offer 3D printed injection modeling (3DIM) services to medical design manufacturers.

The value proposition of this joint effort is quite compelling: it typically requires one or two days to 3D print a mold and start producing parts. When you compare that to traditional methods of building an injection mold, which can vary from a few weeks to a few months, the benefits of 3D printing molds becomes quite obvious.

Medical design manufacturers face a litany of challenges, including budget crunches, tight time-to-market constraints, as well as the major hurdles of pre-clinical testing, usability/human factors testing and a rigorous regulatory process. In an interview with Plastics Today, Derek Mathers, Business Development manager at Worrell, explains how 3D printing can address the specific needs of medtech manufacturers.

The company’s orientation helps its design engineers to “better understand how a part will work in manufacturing, since they will also be the individuals who are creating the molds,” says Mathers. The molds are designed in SOLIDWORKS and can be printed overnight on a Connex500 3D printer. “We can start shooting the parts the next day,” he adds.

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Being able to use the Connex500 to print early prototypes as well as multi-material prototypes that integrate plastics and rubber, and then using the same machine to print molds is the key reason Worrell chose this particular 3D printer. “Because we are 3D printing the molds from the bottom up, layer by layer, we can print in complex slides, pick outs and ejection systems with no increase in cost,” says Mathers.

Of particular benefit to medtech manufacturers, adds Mathers, is the ability to mold the part in the final, specified material and go immediately into pre-clinical testing and usability/human factors testing to establish safety and efficacy. “This is a very expensive and critical part of the process, and 3DIM can speed it up because of the ease with which design iterations can be made.”

For more on this exciting new partnership, read the article, “Blending 3D printing and injection molding reduces tooling costs, speeds time to market” in its entirety on the Plastics Today web site.

Learn Injection Mold Design Best Practices

Designing injection molds is complicated and making mistakes can be costly, bloating budgets and derailing product delivery schedules. SOLIDWORKS Plastics brings easy-to-use injection molding simulation directly to the designers of plastic parts and injection molds.

The software simulates how melted plastic flows during the injection molding process to predict manufacturing-related defects on parts and molds. This solution can help you quickly evaluate manufacturability—all while you’re still designing. A Results Advisor provides troubleshooting steps and practical design advice to help diagnose and avoid potential pitfalls.

You got questions? We got answers. You got 22 minutes? Watch this webinar Injection Mold Design Best Practices to learn the best practices for designing plastics injection molds to minimize or eliminate mold rework, improve part quality and reduce manufacturing wastes using SOLIDWORKS Plastics.

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Barbara Schmitz

Barbara Schmitz

Senior Brand Introduction Manager at SolidWorks
Loyal dog owner, travel bum, cool mom, and lover of hoppy IPAs, alternative music and new tech.