10 Ways 3D Printing is Advancing Plastics Manufacturing

3D printing is changing the game for plastics manufacturing, bringing in advances from faster throughput and bigger parts to total customization and in-house manufacturing.


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3D printing is advancing the plastics manufacturing industry in many ways. Here are 10 of them:

1. Faster throughput

Some of today’s 3D printers generate parts faster than ever. For example, 3D Systems says its Figure 4 production 3D printing system increases speed by a factor of 15 over previous industrial 3D printers, reducing the unit cost of a 3D printed part by 20 percent, thanks in part to the cycle time reduction.

2. Bigger parts

There are now cost-effective industrial 3D printers making larger parts than they were previously able to make. For example, the 3DMonstr Super-Rex 3D printer has a build volume of 3 cubic meters.

3. New options for short-term molds

3D printing is now a short-lead-time option for injection mold making, depending on the right choice of polymer. Avante Technology in Wyoming 3D prints injection molds from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer that last beyond 100 cycles.

4. More efficient production molds

3D printing can make more efficient mold tooling by replacing printed-in conformal cooling channels to create more effective cooling, improved part quality and reduced cycle time for high-volume production.

5. Customization for consumer products

3D printing provides options for consumer products to be tailored to individuals, following the example of custom-printed medical and dental products. Footwear companies like Footprint 3D are starting to use 3D scans of an individual’s feet to 3D print custom midsoles, hinting that more consumer products may soon follow suit.

6. New manufacturing business models

3D printers replacing traditional machinery provide manufacturing plants the option to locate anywhere, including in the middle of urban areas previously untouched by manufacturers. For example, Voodoo Manufacturing is able to locate in Brooklyn thanks to its reliance on desktop 3D printers.

7. Plastic replacing metal

3D printing allows efficient delivery of polymer parts in low quantities, meaning plastic could replace metal for many machine parts. In fact, carbon-fiber-filled 3D-printed polymer can replace even a hard or strong metal.

8. More efficient toolmaking

3D printing is an efficient way to make one-off internal tooling within a company without consuming production capacity. Mold tooling, jigs, fixtures and other tools can often be made from 3D printed polymer instead of traditional metal.

9. Prototyping without impeding production

With desktop 3D printers, engineers don’t have to leave their desks, take up production resources, or even enlist manufacturing staff to produce a 3D-printed polymer prototype.

10. Manufacturing moving in-house

Companies that already print prototypes in-house are going a step further to printing production parts as well, allowing companies that previously weren’t manufacturers at all to step into the plastics manufacturing game. For example, Arizona Home Floors used to develop tools for flooring but outsource the manufacturing, but now 3D printing allows the company to become an in-house manufacturer for the first time.