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Injection molding has long been the optimal method to rapidly make plastic components in large quantities. However, 3D printer manufacturer Type A Machines (San Francisco, CA) has just announced a low-volume additive manufacturing system capable of outperforming injection molding processes in the sub-1,000 unit production range.

Clare Goldsberry

November 19, 2014

3 Min Read
3D printing viable alternative to injection molding

Injection molding has long been the optimal method to rapidly make plastic components in large quantities. However, 3D printer manufacturer Type A Machines (San Francisco, CA) has just announced a low-volume additive manufacturing system capable of outperforming injection molding processes in the sub-1,000 unit production range. 

type-A-machines-240.jpgWhen it comes to low-volume injection molding, the biggest challenge is the price per unit. Additionally, the cost of the mold—if built conventionally—is also prohibitive in many instances. Espen Sivertsen, CEO of Type A Machines, told PlasticsToday that the cost of the injection molding manufacturing method is the main barrier to entry for many entrepreneurs and innovators.

"We designed our robust Series 1 Desktop 3D printer so that industrial designers can go straight to low-volume manufacturing," said Sivertsen. "The new 3D Print Cell capabilities draw on the network and Wi-Fi-ready abilities of the Series 1, a massive build volume, and economical, modular design, which is a powerful combination."

Using 3D Print Cells comprised of Type A Machines' Series 1 3D printers, the company is offering a networked low-volume manufacturing solution that uses a configurable Print Farm comprised of cells of affordable, optimized Series 1 3D printers. Manufacturers can now save cost and lead time while still continuing to iterate and innovate, Sivertsen explained.

"We realized that most of the companies we were selling printers to were not just using one printer, and a whole lot of companies—about one in 10—are running 3D printers as part of their business," Sivertsen noted.

Sivertsen understood that 3D printing isn't just a tool for prototype parts but serves as a production tool, as well. "All kinds of cottage industries are growing up around 3D printing, and we know there's a market for being able to manufacture parts in a small batch process—things they'd normally do with injection molding, but which is cost and time prohibitive. That's the sweet spot for our customers, as well—under the 1,000 part quantity—the space in between prototype and full-blown volume production."

The dramatically lower cost of the 3D Print Cell means that, for a comparable investment of $60,000, a cell of 20 units can be purchased in comparison to a single industrial additive system. This allows for high rates of production, more efficient use of labor, and better resilience to failure.

However, 3D Print Cells can be started with one or two Series 1 3D printers and scaled up as needed to achieve larger quantities faster. "It's all about parts on demand," said Sivertsen. "That's where it's at. Entrepreneurs don't have to tie themselves to a production mold from the start but can scale up manufacturing as sales grow. Once you go over 1,000 parts, you probably need to go to an injection mold."

Type A Machines also offer in-house parts-on-demand 3D printing services to entrepreneurs who want only a few parts. "We're trying to lower the barrier to entry to entrepreneurs and innovators who want to manufacture their products," said Sivertsen. "It's a bridge between the prototyping world and the full-blown production world."

A number of small manufacturers are already switching to low-volume production using the 3D Print Cell, reaping benefits like being able to ship a product as early as possible that meets minimum function, and then iteration during production to make their product even more competitive, Sivertsen noted.

Sivertsen said that the company's vision is to make it as easy as possible for people to design their product and get into full manufacturing quickly without the initial challenge of the cost of an injection mold. "The more quickly you innovate, the more time to market you save," he added. "It's a viable alternative to injection molding parts in the sub-1,000 volume range."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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