3D Printed Molds
The majority of plastic products in the world today are manufactured by injection molding. However, fabricating molds can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Fortunately, molds don’t always need to be machined out of metal—they can be 3D printed.
Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing provides a cost-effective alternative to machining aluminum molds. SLA 3D printed parts are fully solid and isotropic, and materials are available with a heat deflection temperature of up to 238°C @ 0.45 MPa, meaning that they can withstand the heat and pressure of the injection molding process.
With affordable desktop 3D printers, temperature resistant 3D printing materials, and injection molding machines, it is possible to create 3D printed injection molds in-house to produce functional prototypes and small, functional parts in production plastics. For low-volume production (approximately 10-1000 parts), 3D printed injection molds save time and money compared to expensive metal molds. They also enable a more agile manufacturing approach, allowing engineers and designers to prototype injection molds and test mold configurations or to easily modify molds and continue to iterate on their designs with low lead times and cost.
SLA 3D printing technology is a great choice for molding. It is characterized by a smooth surface finish and high precision that the mold will transfer to the final part and that also facilitates demolding. 3D prints produced by SLA are chemically bonded such that they are fully dense and isotropic, producing functional molds at a quality not possible with fused deposition modeling (FDM). Desktop and benchtop SLA printers, like those offered by Formlabs, simplify workflow as they are easy to implement, operate, and maintain.
- IPC conducted a technical study on injection molding with 3D printed molds
- Multiplus uses Rigid 10K Resin 3D printed molds for low-volume production
- Novus Applications injection molded hundreds of threaded caps with a Rigid 10K Resin three-parts mold
- Braskem fabricated 3000 mask straps in a week with a High Temp Resin mold insert
- Holimaker produces 100s of technical parts with Grey Pro Resin and Rigid 10K Resin molds