October 12, 2020

How We Optimized Manufacturing With 3D Printed Tooling Solutions

With injection molding, a large portion of the quality of the finished part relies on the tooling used at the beginning of the production process. Injection molding requires precision at all stages, and achieving a precise mold can be both time consuming and labor intensive. However, with the advent and application of 3D printing capabilities, Hansen Plastics has been able to find a way to reduce both the time and labor needed to create quality tools for injection molding.

Prototyping and Lean Manufacturing

By utilizing 3D printers to kick-off the in-house tooling process for large production runs, engineers are able to iterate prototypes for parts with less lead time and greater flexibility. This allows them to adjust portions of the prototype tooling to perfect the mold without incurring the cost and time sink that milling a new metal mold would create. Rather than needing to employ heavy equipment, such as a CNC mill, to craft the mold, taking valuable time and resources, printing a mold via a 3D printer requires less material and creates an equally precise mold in significantly less time. Additionally, the ability to use a 3D printer doesn’t require the same detailed training or protective equipment to operate as something like a CNC mill would necessitate, making the 3D printed prototyping process much leaner to employ.

End-of-Arm Tooling

A large expense in both time and money in injection molding is end-of-arm tooling. 3D printing allows us to create our own end-of-arm tools, which are used on robots that assist with the production process, most notably the removal of delicate parts from the press. The creation of an end-of-arm tool used to take weeks, and would be outsourced to our vendors. With 3D printing, the cost is reduced to our costs for producing the end-of-arm only, and lead time for tooling has been cut down from a few weeks to a few hours.

Injection Molds for Short Production Runs

While inefficient for larger production runs, 3D printed tooling has found an ideal niche in short runs of 10–100 pieces. Due to their low-cost and efficiency to produce, Hansen Plastics has found that the 3D printed molds are best suited for low- to medium-volume productions, as this creates the greatest value for both the customer and the manufacturer, as well as utilizes the mold to its fullest potential before it begins running into issues.

Namely, with larger runs, the higher heat and pressure required tend to degrade the 3D printed molds over time, due to the nature of using plastics as a base material for the mold versus metal. Still, with the money saved up front on the mold creation, the dramatically reduced time it takes to create the 3D printed mold, and the ability to adjust the mold’s dimensions much easier using a 3D printer versus re-tooling a metal mold, the 3D printed tooling becomes a much higher value choice for customers seeking runs that need to be completed in shorter time frames, or in smaller runs.

Hansen Plastics understands that to provide the greatest value to customers, there needs to be a constant eye on ways to innovate and improve the production process. To that end, introducing and utilizing 3D printing to the tooling process has been an exceptional success in optimizing the manufacturing process to be faster, more efficient, leaner, and an overall value-add to our customers. While 3D printed tooling for an entire production run may be better suited to specific projects, having the ability to 3D print tooling for prototyping and short-lead time projects for limited runs is another indispensable capability in Hansen Plastic’s toolbelt.

For over 40 years, Hansen Plastics has been committed to building long-lasting relationships with customers, which requires unwavering dedication to quality and consistency in injection molding, to help establish and retain trust. If you are looking for a trusted, experienced plastic injection molder to handle your products, reach out to HPC today, or visit HansenPlastics.com for a full view of HPC’s capabilities.