Posted on: 9th Aug 2021
Injection moulding and 3D printing are both methods used to produce plastic components. 3D printing has become more widely used over recent years and it can be difficult to know which manufacturing method best suits your needs. Here we will explore each process, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they can complement each other.
In the injection moulding process, molten plastic is injected into a pre-made mould in an injection moulding machine, using high temperatures, force and pressure. Once the mould has been filled and the part is formed, it is released from the mould, cooled, and then trimmed/finished as required.
Injection moulding allows for high volumes of parts to be produced. Automation and multi cavity tooling are manufacturing options that can support mass production.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process where 3 dimensional objects are created from a digital file. Successive layers of material are built up on top of each other until the object is complete.
A number of materials are available for 3D printing, including but not exclusively, TPU, TPE, Nylon, Polypropylene, and Polycarbonate. For more complex prints, materials such as PVA or HIPS are used as a dissolvable support structure that is removed once the print is complete.
Although a slower overall process, 3D printing has a faster initial set up time and can be a more suitable option for more complex parts, allowing for frequent changes to design. Ideally suited to low volume production, 3D printing enables samples and prototypes to be made before committing to full tooling and production.
3D printing and injection moulding are often seen as alternatives to each other, but they both have their place within the manufacturing industry, offering different benefits.
Due to its excellent versatility and huge material choice, the vast majority of plastic parts are still produced by injection moulding.
However, 3D printing has become an increasingly popular choice for prototyping, especially as injection moulding can involve significant upfront tooling costs, and a commitment to components that may need testing and/or modifying prior to approval.
Whilst it is highly unlikely that either process will take over from the other, alongside each other, injection moulding and 3D printing, can offer the ideal balance of manufacturing versatility and cost/time optimisation.
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