How does 3D printing solve problems related to injection technology?

28 September 2022

The standard production process for plastic equipment in recent decades mainly involved injection technology, and this proven solution will undoubtedly still be used in mass production. However, due to several advantages, such as lower costs in smaller orders and far shorter lead times, 3D printing is gaining more and more popularity.

What’s more, 3D printing may not only be cheaper but, in many cases, the only technology enabling project implementation. So let’s talk about the 3D-printed revolution and how it helps various industries reduce costs and implement new solutions faster.

Time-to-market and cost are the most significant downsides of the injection technology

Injection technology owes its enormous popularity mainly to the low cost in large volumes. If we have to produce several thousand or more pieces of a given element, in the vast majority of cases, the injection method will be the optimal solution, but it works both ways. The fewer parts we need, the more expensive this technology becomes. The reason for this is the cost of injection molds, which can even exceed €30,000. Moreover, this price may increase due to the soaring prices of steel from which they are made. And not every project can be done in just one injection mold. On occasions, two or more are needed, which adds to the initial cost even more.

The profitability of injection technology compared to 3D printing technology is well described by these graphs:

To make matters worse, the design and production of injection molds take at least eight weeks. Added to this is the mold assembly, testing, and often corrections that extend the process even more. So if the parts are needed immediately, this option is out of the question.

How does 3D printing solve problems related to injection technology?

Both the initial cost and time are non-issues for modern 3D printers such as the HP Multi Jet Fusion. First, the problem of the minimum series required does not arise here. The profitability of printing even starts with one piece, which makes it a great solution, for example, for creating personalized dentures. The execution time is also incomparably shorter than the multi-week process that cannot be avoided with injection molding. In our case, the project implementation takes 3 to 5 days.

3D printing as a response to the needs of agile enterprises

The current market conditions are often defined by the acronym VUCA, which means:

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

  • Various economic, political, or natural disasters can cause the demand for a specific commodity to drop or increase drastically at any time. Unlike injection technology, 3D printing allows companies to be more flexible and adapt to changing conditions.

    Short lead times, on-demand production, and no need to freeze assets are the features that make 3D printing a solution perfectly suited to modern companies operating under the idea of ​​lean management or the DDMRP (Demand Driven Material Requirement Planning) methodology. More and more companies are abandoning costly investments and the production of large series of products because it carries too much business risk. At any time, for random reasons, the demand may decrease. Whenever possible, companies prefer to order and produce goods or components only after receiving orders from customers, and often it is the use of 3D printing that makes such a strategy possible.

    Continuous improvement of products and parts

    The flexibility of 3D printing is also of great value for companies that work on innovative products constantly developing. With those kinds of projects, it is expected that the first versions will require some corrections after real users have tested the product.

    It often turns out that the original assumptions do not coincide with how the product is used. For example, you may find that the buttons or input ports are not in the right places and need to be placed elsewhere. Thanks to the fact that it costs nothing to change the design, the product can evolve freely without worrying about the time and costs of subsequent injection molds.

    Interestingly, experience from almost all of our projects shows that customers take advantage of this opportunity and improve the ordered elements from series to series. Even if changes are minor, the mere ability to implement them is considered a huge advantage.

    Will 3D printing gradually replace injection technology?

    The fact is that from the point of view of profitability, injection technology is still unmatched at high volumes, which is perfectly illustrated by the chart shown above. However, in the case of short and medium series, the advantages of 3D printing are unquestionable. Thanks to the growing popularity of the solution, technologies such as Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) are developing very dynamically. Over time, we can expect even faster production and greater processing capacity of the printers.

    Already at this point, companies from many industries are successfully implementing 3D printing into their processes – from small elements to ready-made casings of large devices.

    If you feel that 3D printing will also work in your company, please contact us. We will help you determine how this technology will allow you to reduce costs and speed up processes in your company.