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3D printing captures the show at EuroMold

As EuroMold 2013 wraps up another successful show on Friday, it turns out that this year's event was less about molds and more about 3D printing. If there are any mold makers or molders out there who think that 3D printing (additive manufacturing) isn't a disruptive technology, think again.

From the reports coming out of EuroMold, the crowds gravitated to the booths of the many 3D printing equipment makers to see what's new in this increasingly popular and fascinating technology. Of course it might have helped that the 3D printed plastic handgun ban got a lot of attention in the U.S. this week. There's no denying that 3D is what's in.

I just pulled down a white paper from Stratasys Ltd., a maker of 3D equipment and materials on what 3D printing of molds means to the injection molding industry. I've written about this recently from a press release from the K show, but it's something that keeps cropping up, so I'll keep writing about it. Let's face it, 3D printing of molds is a disruptive technology!

Stratasys readily admits that molds built using their PolyJet technology (offered by the company's Objet 3D printers), isn't intended to be a replacement for soft or hard tools used in mid- and high volume production applications. However, it will provide companies with "the ability to build injection molds in-house, quickly and easily," and "fill the gap between soft tool molds and 3D printed prototypes." (Which I might add is almost becoming passé these days.)

That means that mold makers could start feeling the pinch from customers who, instead of coming to the mold supplier for prototype parts or for pilot molds, the OEM engineering group will build their own prototype molds and get parts prior to building the production mold. That will cut into the value-add at the front-end - and into the mold makers' ability to be more profitable on the complete program.

For years (starting back in the '90s), I've been telling mold makers that investing in additive manufacturing will hold some long-term value for them. Few have moved in that direction for various reasons, primarily because most thought that 3D would always be a "fringe" business - not a mainstream manufacturing process. The ones that have implemented 3D into their service offerings are now reaping the benefits of this tidal wave of interest that is capturing the attention - and the imagination - of manufacturing world.

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