Three Dimensional Printing, also called Additive Manufacturing, is the process of making a solid object from a digital file by laying down successive layers of a specific material.

Fastly transforming from a prototyping and one-off technology to mass production technology, there is much interest – and much hype – around 3D printing.

Home use, of course, receives prominent attention, but 3D printing has also been frequently utilized in niches like the medical industry for prosthetic parts, dental appliances, and even PPE apparatuses in the wake of COVID-19.

Is 3D Printing an appropriate full-proof substitute, however, for injection molding? Can the two methods be used in tandem?

Buffalo Manufacturing weighs in!

3D Printing is Best Utilized For:

  • Rapidly developing prototypes (or designs with frequent changes)
  • Low volume production runs
  • Quick production turnaround times of a few weeks
  • Relatively small parts
  • More intricate design with detailed infrastructures – holes, cross-sections, etc.
  • When money is tight – 3D printing sports a lower entry cost than injection mold manufacturing, with even open-source software and hardware for ongoing support coming at a low cost.

Injection Molding is Best Utilized For:

  • High volume production runs with repeatability and precision
  • Lower cost of parts production compared to 3D printing (after the mold is finished in the tooling process)
  • Parts of any size or complexity (including large items)

A Few More Check-Marks in the “Pro Injection Mold” Column:

  • Material wastage is minimal, and there’s less chance for fissures, impurities, or other weaknesses of the molded parts compared to 3D printing.
  • You can also “mold” a variety of materials not possible with 3D printing procedures: polymers, thermoplastics, metal powders, even rubber.

If Injection Molding is So Much Faster and Versatile, Why Bother 3D Printing?

The difference is in the “tooling” procedure, specifically the cost of the mold. As we discussed in our primer on injection molding , the “tooling” process of formulating a design for the mold and the part is extensive, with many stages and personnel, and frequently costs thousands of dollars.

Additionally, there is an advantage to “test-driving” prototypes of products via 3D printing manufacture, making appropriate corrections with 3D CAD software, and printing again before committing to schematics for a large-scale run of injection molded products. Here’s where the “best of both worlds” may be explored: prototype with 3D printing, mass-produce with injection molding.

Bite The Bullet, Buy The Mold

This comparison is less “which method is better” and more “which method is better for your operations.”

While 3D printing procedures continue to be finessed, for large-scale manufacturing OEMs, injection molding still takes this round.

The amount of time and money committed to the tooling phase is worth the savings of the number of parts you can produce once the mold has been made. Past a certain point and level of part complexity, 3D printing becomes an unrealistic and cost-ineffective option.

Buffalo Manufacturing Breaks the Mold

Buffalo Manufacturing is an industry leader in custom molds for a variety of applications and industries, using a wide variety of engineering-grade plastics. We pride ourselves on affording a wide scope of parts sizes specific to your needs, fast turnaround times, and versatile production capacity – small, medium, and large runs handled, as you need them. If you have questions about 3D printing, we’ll answer those, too! Contact us today.