TIPS WITH TONY: Rapid Injection Molding vs. Conventional Molding

How do you know if you should use low-volume injection molding or traditional methods? What benefit does soft aluminum tooling provide? These are just a few questions we hear regularly, so we wanted to shed some light on these important molding considerations.

Before Proto Labs began in 1999, prototyping with injection molding was costly and took months to receive the very first sample parts. We took a low-volume approach to injection molding where it was possible to get a handful of parts in a few days rather than the large-scale approach that nearly all other manufacturers used that involved part minimum in the tens of thousands and full-scale production in the millions of parts.

Proto Labs specializes in aluminum molds that use high-speed CNC machines to create a standard single cavity mold in as fast as one business day with the ability to produce up to 10,000 parts or more. Complex parts are also possible by using pin-actuated slides as well as hand-loaded mold inserts. We try to take the difficulty out of injection molding design by simplifying it.

Conventional molding uses a much more complex molds that take weeks to design, where Proto Labs is highly automated. Complex multi-plate mold designs using lifters, collapsible cores and multi-cavities are able to produce much more complex parts at high volumes, and typically, mold creation for these molds take anywhere from four to 12 weeks.

Bridge Tooling
We discovered that there was a much greater need for low-volume manufacturing. Customers were placing additional orders for a few thousand parts that were being used to set-up production lines and even limited short-run production while the conventional tooling was being built.

Conventional tooling is your production mold. It’s difficult to have a bridge tool produced without having your production molder hold off on manufacturing while they create a bridge tool. Using both methods allows you to have two manufacturers producing molds side-by-side to ultimately have parts produced faster.

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3D Printing or Machining for Plastic Parts?

An SL machine displays a final ABS-like part with supports.

There are many questions to consider when determining if your plastic parts should be 3D printed or machined. Can you test form, fit and function by using plastic-like materials or do you require engineering-grade thermoplastics? Do you need a broader selection of plastic materials during protoyping? Is your part geometry simple or complex? What are the cost considerations for both methods?

Our latest April Design Tip takes a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of both 3D printing and CNC machining.  It aims to help you determine which method is better for your particular application. Continue reading