Prototype CNC machining is often available in two primary forms: 3D printing and injection molding. These are two manufacturing processes that are both popular solutions for plastic components and are often compared against one another. However, are they as similar as they appear on the surface? Could they actually be used together for more effective results?
In this guide, we are going to compare 3D printing and injection molding prototyping head-on to help you determine which one might be best suited for your needs. We will also explore how they can complement one another if you decide to implement both.
3D Prototyping and Injection Molding Compared
3D printers can be leveraged to create tangible prototypes of a part or component for your manufacturing requirements. Though this process often takes more time than injection molding, you gain more flexibility that allows for quicker design alterations and more complex details.
Due to their increased popularity over recent years, industrial-grade 3D printers are also rather affordable and require less floor space than an injection molding setup. After the initial purchase of the printer, the only recurring costs are labor and replacement manufacturing material for creating new parts and prototypes.
However, 3D printing often creates prototypes that will need some additional finishing once they have been produced. You may need to smooth out certain aspects of the finished model once it has been created.
On its own, 3D printing is often best suited for small-batch manufacturing and prototyping as well as for creating products with complex design requirements. These could include parts that may feature nonstandard geometries, sizes, or shapes.
Injection molding is a process that forces a wide range of materials into a mold where the material cools and solidifies into the intended shape. It’s fast, typically taking only seconds to minutes, but has less flexibility for design changes.
If you are already further along in the design phases and need to produce a large number of products quickly, injection molding may prove more cost-effective than 3D printing. However, the process is often more labor-intensive and more expensive.
One major advantage is that injection-molded products can be manufactured with more types of materials than the limited range of options that 3D printers present.
How Can 3D Printing and Injection Molding Be Used Together?
Though 3D printing and injection molding are often compared to one another, they can indeed be combined during the prototyping phase.
For example, a 3D printer provides more flexibility to make design changes in the initial stages of prototyping. This is due to the fact that the print is designed in a software suite before it ever becomes a tangible object. You can fine-tune various aspects of the part you want to manufacture before your first print.
Once you have created an initial prototype that you are satisfied with, you can use an injection molder to create a mass production model of the finished product. Injection molding is commonly used for mass production at extraordinarily high volumes.
The 3D printing process can also be used to create molds for injection molding. This is done by printing a negative of the desired shape, which can then be filled with molten material to create the positive form. Get 3D Prototyping Services for Your Business
Work with a 3D Printing Partner for Your Business Today
At Advance CNC Machining, we offer multiple prototype CNC machining and engineering solutions for your design projects, including 3D printing. We apply our far-reaching experience in parts design to create a customized solution that is both accurate to your specifications and functional.
To learn more about how we can assist your business as a prototyping partner, contact us today for a free quote.