What’s the potential for 3D printing to be a major disruptor in the manufacturing arena? Some say there’s a possibility that 3D printing may disrupt injection molding or thermoforming, however that might be a stretch. Companies injection mold parts because it’s the most cost effective way to manufacture plastic parts in high volumes and in a short amount of time. 3D printing, while fast, doesn’t have the capability to produce thousands of parts in a matter of minutes like, for instance, a 196-cavity mold producing caps or closures in a 3-second cycle.
For large parts, such as those made either by injection molding, blow molding or thermoforming, manufacturers are limited by the size of the build box in 3D printing machines. While the build boxes have expanded in size somewhat, they are not large enough to make extremely large parts.
For making complex parts, either in metal through the DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) or SLM (Selected Laser Melting) processes, or in plastic, 3D printing can’t be beat. For complex metal parts, 3D metal printing DMLS or SLM are most likely to be a disruptive technology for the MIM (Metal Injection Molding) process or for metal parts fabrication using subtractive machining.
3D printing has a long way to go yet before it will be a real disrupter to high-volume injection molding or large part molding, blow molding or thermoforming. Still, it warrants watching.