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Can 3D Printing Replace Injection Molding?

  • July 17, 2020

With origins dating back to the late 1800s, injection molding is a time-tested manufacturing process. It’s been used for over a century to produce objects in custom shapes and sizes. While many manufacturing companies still use injection molding, there’s talk of it being replaced with 3D printing. So, can 3D printing really replace injection molding?

What Is Injection Molding?

To better understand whether 3D printing can replace injection molding, you must familiarize yourself with both of these manufacturing processes. Injection molding is a molding process that involves injecting plastic into a mold cavity. Although it supports the use of many different materials, it’s typically performed using plastic. The plastic material is heated, after which it’s forced into a mold cavity.

As the plastic fills the mold cavity, it takes the shape of the mold. Once the plastic has cooled and hardened, the newly created casting is removed or ejected from the mold cavity. This manufacturing process is known as “injection molding” because it involves injecting material into a mold cavity.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing process that uses a machine, known as a 3D printer, to build an object with raw material from a computer-generated model file. Manufacturers build objects via 3D printing by designing them in a computer program, followed by uploading or sending them to a 3D printer. The 3D printer will convert will model file into a physical object by building it from raw material.

There are different types of 3D printing, most of which involve the creation of layers. With traditional 3D printing processes such as this, 3D printers build objects layer by layer by depositing material onto a bed. Other 3D printing processes work by melting or sintering a bed or powder. In these processes, 3D printers project heat over a bed of powder particles, essentially fusing the powder particles together.

No, 3D Printing Won’t Replace Injection Molding

3D printing offers several advantages over injection molding, but that doesn’t mean it will replace it — at least not anytime soon. Injection molding requires the use of a specialized machine. Injection molding machines can typically create objects faster, more efficiently, and in many cases, with better dimensional accuracy than 3D printers.

Of course, 3D printing processes are constantly evolving. Researchers and manufacturers are refining their 3D printing processes to improve the performance of this manufacturing process. As a result, 3D printing could, perhaps, replace injection molding in the future.

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