Multi-billion dollar 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company Stratasys, in cooperation with Dutch manufacturer Promolding, has successfully reduced injection mold lead times by 93% through the utilization of Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing solutions. Injection molding, one of the most widely used manufacturing processes, is often leveraged by manufacturers with massive volumes of products to create plastic items such as chairs and toys.
In an injection molding process, a polymer or plastic material is heated up to liquid form until it becomes flexible enough to fit in any shape of a mold. The liquefied polymer is then injected into a custom mold using pressure, and the entire process can be completed relatively quickly, unlike many other manufacturing methods.
In most cases, the polymer injection phase, which seems ostensibly complex and sophisticated, is simple and swift, while the creation of the mold requires weeks of preparation.
Jeroen Gross, Product Development Manager at Promolding, an industry leader in the global design, engineering and manufacturing of high-tech plastic parts and components, noted that the development of injection molds normally takes manufacturers around six weeks. However, with accurate and efficient 3D printing of molds, Gross explained that the mold creation phase can be reduced by 93%, which allows Promolding to complete the majority of the injection molding manufacturing process within just a few days.
“Traditionally, injection mold development required at least a six-week lead time,” said Gross. “By designing and 3D printing the molds in-house, we can produce molds in just three days.”
Due to the efficiency of Stratasys PolyJet solutions in designing and developing molds, Gross stated that his team came to a consensus to rely on Stratasys rather than other commercial 3D printers in the market.
“We became increasingly aware of the need for a 3D printer that would help us optimize our product development process,” he said. “We looked at several different options, but fell in love with Stratasys’ Objet Connex 3D Printer and its ability to not only improve our prototyping, but also become a key driver for our PRIM (3D Printed Injection Molding division) business.”
“PRIM is available to our customers as an additional service in parallel to prototyping and traditional injection molding,” he continued. “In the future, we believe PRIM will be seen as a commonplace process of its own. We have come a long way and we’ll continue to explore further applications in which PolyJet 3D printing can enhance our offering.”
Recently, Promolding designed a fiber optic sensor house for their client Fugro, a global leader in integrated geotechnical, subsea, survey and geoscience services. The extremely complex part needed to be completed in a short amount of time, and with traditional injection molding, the deadline may have been close to impossible to meet. By using the Objet500 Connex 3D printer, however, Promolding was able to quickly produce a series of molds, which in turn allowed Fugro to create over 50 samples of the product housing in different materials including PP, TPE and PBT.
“Particularly with the development of bigger and more complex products, it is crucial as a business that we are as efficient as possible throughout the product development process, without compromising on quality,” said Gross. “Having our 3D printer has enabled us to achieve this and given us an incredible level of flexibility. We can use the technology in the early development phases to speed up the design process and develop, review and adapt prototypes earlier, but also extend the efficiencies into production through our PRIM process. It really has been a game-changer and we’ve seen the benefits passed onto our customers.”
Promolding’s major clients include Heineken and Airbus, the latter being one of the biggest pioneers of 3D printing in the aerospace industry. The company had been using the Objet500 Connex printer for several other product development applications, but they’ve only just begun to use it to create injection molds, combining two major manufacturing technologies and potentially creating new business opportunities.
“Additive manufacturing has the power to transform business models and Promolding is a prime example,” said Andy Middleton, General Manager of Stratasys EMEA. “We are seeing more and more customers realize the full potential of our PolyJet 3D printing technology, going beyond the immediate efficiencies within product design and pioneering the disruption of traditional manufacturing processes. In the case of injection molding, 3D printed injection molds are redefining the price-performance benchmark for low volume production, giving manufacturers the flexibility to produce products in the final injected material faster than ever before.”