A 3D printed injection mold is produced by a 3D printer. While traditional injection molds are made from steel or aluminum, 3D printed molds are made from plastic. 3D printed injection molds are typically used for projects that require a lower volume production run where less than a hundred of a part is needed. They are also useful in circumstances that require multiple molds as they can be made quickly.
Materials for 3D Printed Injection Molds
When selecting a material for a 3D printed injection mold, it is important to select something that has high strength and stiffness, that can stand up to high pressure during injection. It should also have a high-temperature resistance. Common materials used for 3D printed injection molds include nylon (polyamide), polypropylene (PP), thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and more. Since 3D printed molds can be sensitive to heat and pressure, it is common to add a surface coat or metallic to the mold to strengthen it.
Even after you have selected a strong material to produce your mold, a metal frame must be added. These frames act as additional support to the pressure and heat inside the injection molding machine. The metal frames can be used again with other 3D printed molds. It is, for this reason, there is some flexibility in 3D printed injection molding as the 3D mold can be swapped out easily when a new design is needed.
What are the Benefits of 3D Printing?
3D printing allows prototypes and parts to be designed in printed in a short amount of time. The traditional metal mold used for plastic injection processes takes a longer time to tool and produce. This is why some industries that require a low turnaround time and a smaller number of parts have embraced 3D printed molds. For example, the medical industry uses 3D printed molds for orthopedics, prosthetics, heart valves, and more.
Should I Make a 3D Printed Injection Mold?
There are some factors to consider when deciding if you would like to produce your products using a 3D printed injection mold. 3D printed molds are made for lower volume production runs because they can degrade when subject to high heat and pressure. Quality can be affected as 3D printed injection molds require a secondary process of machining and sanding before they are usable. 3D printed molds are smaller in size and as a result, are limited to producing only smaller parts. While 3D printed molds are cheaper to make than a steel mold, you will need to produce a new mold more often. You must work with a skilled design and engineering team that has experience in 3D printing to ensure your mold will be successful.
3D printed injection molding makes sense if you are working on a project with lower volume requirements, a design that requires frequent mold changes or multiple molds would like to produce a smaller plastic part or component, are working in conjunction with a skilled design team, and have the people and resources to produce and assemble the mold.
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