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Benefits of 3D Printing

By now, nearly everyone has heard about 3D printing. This is especially true for players in the plastics industry as around 90% of the machines sold for Additive Manufacturing (AM) are for polymer-based materials. However, many companies are investigating how to integrate AM into their businesses.

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From OEMs to tiered suppliers to tooling and machine shops, AM is allowing more customization and helping to reduce costs, shorten lead-times, and achieve faster parts maturation—all to bring true value-add for their customers. Common examples of these benefits include:

  • Rapid prototyping
  • The production of functional custom-fitted products, such as prosthetics
  • The creation of assembly jigs and the checking of fixtures
  • Low-volume final parts (aerospace and specialty automotive)
  • The production of replacement parts for older equipment

A less common example of AM is the creation of 3D-printed insert molds for plastic injection molding. Using high-temperature polymers that include Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) optimized cooling features, molds can be printed and inserted into a steel die to then be injected with mass-production-grade plastics. Depending on the polymer used, the method can yield from 50 to 200 essentially high-level tooled parts without the need for any machining of aluminum or steel. This can cut out double digit weeks of lead-time and save tens of thousands of dollars.

Another unique example is the use of AM for investment casting. A 3D-printed part can be used to create the mold for injecting wax cores or, for low volume products or prototypes, the core can be 3D-printed directly with wax to build the tree. This would essentially be “rapid high-level tooled” parts for investment casting.

Insource vs. Outsource

The challenge that many companies face is deciding whether to invest in 3D printing to bring the ability in-house or to outsource their printing needs. The typical concerns include:

  • Cost of equipment purchase or lease
  • Expense of a service contract
  • Choosing the right technology (Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Sterolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sutering (SLS), etc., all have their pros and cons)
  • Rapidly improving equipment (i.e., higher performance for lower cost)
  • Cost of material (industrial grade printers typically require use of their “closed” material cartridges)
  • Material selection per application (i.e., what material is best for your needs)
  • Hiring and training of technicians

For operations that want to use AM for a few processes with a specific range of materials, or for those that want to make production parts, it may make sense to bring the ability in-house.

For most other businesses, AM can be outsourced to a service bureau that can simply print and ship to them parts that match their specifications. Outsourcing will still most likely yield a significant cost savings, especially for those companies who are still experimenting with how AM can be integrated into their processes. It’s a low-cost and low-risk way to try out various strategies and technologies and to learn from the experience of the supplier.

How We Can Help

Polymer Ohio has access to a significant network of individuals and organizations with additive manufacturing know-how. Our staff can help you explore the best solution for your business and put you in touch with the right expertise to accelerate your understanding and experimentation with this promising AM technology. Contact Greg McMahon at (614) 776-5720 or by email at gmcmahon@polymerohio.org.


About the author:

IC3D is one of Ohio’s top manufacturers of 3D printing consumables and 3D printing products offering guidance on AM solutions. Visit IC3D at www.ic3dprinters.com.

Winner of the 2014 Edison Crystal Award From PolymerOhio

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