While the trend for 3D-printed parts for automotive has been coming on strong, most automotive OEMs still design parts — exterior, interior, under-hood, and fuel systems — for injection molding. Although the mold design process is highly critical and challenging, injection molding itself is a reliable method for manufacturing solid plastic parts with enhanced quality finish.
When considering the material for mold making, it has been observed that metal molds made with steel and aluminum are the ideal choice for plastic injection molding, given their intrinsic properties, including durability. The metal mold market for plastic injection molding is forecast to reach an annual value of $5.5 billion by 2027, according to a new report released by Global Market Insights.
More than 60% of companies surveyed prefer steel as a key material for molds used in the injection molding process, primarily because of the metal’s ability to make complex parts as well as its durability under high-volume molding conditions. Moreover, the cost of steel typically represents only about 5 to 10% of the tooling cost, thereby reducing the total cost of the finished product. Other advantages of steel molds for injection molding include its hardness and reduced flash on the mold surface. Steel molds hold up better when molding materials such as glass-filled nylons and other filled engineering materials.
Aluminum molds also have a number of benefits for injection molds. Aluminum molds have been deemed to last long beyond the set requirement; in some cases, aluminum molds can be used to produce more production units by several orders of magnitude should volume requirements exceed the original projection. Additionally, aluminum molds are easier to adjust if the molding process reveals required changes. A typical aluminum mold takes less time to machine and build because of the softness of the material.
Given these benefits, steel and aluminum molds are seeing high demand across a range of applications including in the automotive industry. Automakers have increased the number of plastic parts for auto components, particularly in response to lightweighting requirements. Injection molding is currently one of the dominant production methods for manufacturing plastic parts in the automotive sector, as it represents a viable solution for mass producing consistent quality parts in a range of polymers.
An upsurge in demand for lightweight vehicles potentially will open new growth opportunities for the metal molds market. For example, Jaguar Land Rover recently announced plans to improve the efficiency of its future EVs through increased use of lightweight materials. The company is currently leading an industrial consortium in the Tucana Project, which emphasizes enhancement of structural stiffness by 30% and vehicle weight reduction by 77 pounds.