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Manufacturing capabilities are rapidly adjusting to the demand of the market, and 3D printing is making huge gains in meeting future production demands. Let’s consider the main applications of 3D printing processes that focus on plastics. These only scratch the surface of the benefits that a 3D printing service can bring to your organization.
We’d like to first consider the end-user applications for the item in question. Below, we have itemized each of the 3D processes under the type of ideal use-case each finds today.
Jigs, Fixtures/Brackets Medical, and Bio-compatible Components
FFF/FDM process stands for Fused Filament Fabrication and Fused Deposition Modeling, respectively. Both of these processes deploy plastic through a heated nozzle. Widely available, this easy-to-use process supplies a short lead time which is quite appealing when market timing is a concern. Initially, the design of this technology meant the plastic material available was best suited for prototyping. Now, commodity and engineering thermoplastics allow for a more advanced application. For example, FDM Ultem is a specialized thermoplastic that withstands the sterilization temperature produced by an autoclave. Allowing for continued medical application, coupled with online 3D printing capabilities, this option is a mainstay for manufacturing today.
Alternatives and Cost Comparison: CNC prototyping and Injection moulding. Commodity and Engineering Thermoplastics are expensive. Compared to both CNC Machining and injection moulding, FDM produces similar accuracy at a fraction of the cost. Due to economies of scale, quantities should be between 1-100 pcs. for a true saving. Injection moulding typically carries a minimum order quantity (MOQ) far above the 1-100 pcs. For a 2-8 day lead time, FFF/FDM offers a price point between $90-$20 dollars, with a quantity at 100 pcs or below. CNC and Injection moulding can have varying time frame between 10 days and 6 weeks. Likewise, the unit price falls between $300-$15 dollars for 200-5000 pcs.
In many scenarios, a 3D Printing service is a fit for mass customization as well. SLA/DLP (Stereolithography and Digital Light Projector), converts the power of UV light to solidify a liquid resin. The result is a part smooth-to-the-touch finish, with highly detailed markings, and customized to user-specifics, all on-demand. Though thermal resins, by comparison, is more bridle to its thermoplastic counterpart, thermal resin material produces a mould-like finish. A glossy-type feature will be present. The ability to produce end-user products in multiple colours, or clear see-through variations, are a plus for many applications. Handles on a facial shaving razor, for example.
Alternatives and Cost Comparison: CNC, Vacuum Casting, Injection Moulding. DLP/SLA competitively produces complex designs that otherwise would be subject to high MOQ. The complexity of design eliminates the CNC machining option. This 3D printing method is superior to the vacuum casting option, as that casting option is a manual one, making scaling not cost-productive. This 3D printing service is best for an End-Use Product that will have direct contact with a consumer. It is geometrically intricate and complex and has a low-run application. Remember, this process cannot compete with large MOQ’s that are best used in an Injection moulding process. However, DLP/SLA carries superior strength in very specific scenarios, as shown. Additionally, DLP/SLA has an attractive price point. For quantities at 30 pcs and below, the typical production cost is in between $30-$10 dollars. The entire process has a lead time of 2-5 days. Compared to a 10-15 day lead time and costs varying between $150-$30 dollars, it is safe to say that customized order quantities below 30 pieces should be developed using the DLP/SLA methods.
Durable, Chemically Resistant, Low-Run Plastic Performance Production
SLS/MJF or Selective Laser Sintering/Multi-Jet Fusion uses a heat source to bind powder plastic particles together, one individual particle at a time. This results in a chemically resistant, high strength, end-user plastic item. While these methods use Nylon, glass or carbon particles induced to enhance performance. Before this 3D printing option, injection moulding which carries high MOQ’s was the sole option for this type of application. For many, orders into the low hundreds was not a viable cost option. At certain organizations, this has changed. Mass producing these types of parts, meanwhile producing your spare part needs on-demand, may be beneficial. Especially up to the part quantity of 500 pcs.
Online 3D printing is changing the face of the manufacturing industry. As shown, the application variations of the many 3D manufacturing processes make this technology one that will last into the future. Harnessing the power of the internet is one key to maintaining a competitive business advantage. The 3D printing methods highlighted can be deployed on-demand with complete automation.