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ResourcesBlog[Webinar Recording] Plastic 3D Printing vs. Injection Molding: Making the Best Choice

[Webinar Recording] Plastic 3D Printing vs. Injection Molding: Making the Best Choice

Greg Paulsen - Xometry Contributor
Written by
Greg Paulsen
 57 min read
Edited June 8, 2024

This webinar aims to give attendees a comprehensive understanding of when and why to employ plastic 3D printing or injection molding, ensuring informed decision-making for efficient and innovative manufacturing solutions.

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In this webinar, Greg Paulsen from Xometry discusses the differences between plastic 3D printing and injection molding and when to choose each method. He explains that Xometry is a manufacturing marketplace that offers a variety of manufacturing processes and is process agnostic. Paulsen discusses the strengths of injection molding and plastic 3D printing and how to determine which method is best for a specific part. He also covers topics such as considerations, break-even points, and bridging the gap between the two methods. Paulsen emphasizes the importance of understanding function and finish, design and geometry features, budget and demand, and deadlines when making a decision. He concludes by highlighting the benefits of using both methods in the product development lifecycle and the ability to transition from 3D printing to injection molding for high-volume production.

Full Transcript

Greg Paulsen:

All right. Awesome. Well, we are at the top of the hour, so I think it's a good time to get started today's webinar. I'm Greg Paulsen from Xometry and I am so excited to walk through Plastic 3D Printing Versus Injection Molding: Making the Best Choice today. We got a lot to cover. Let me just jump right into the agenda. Before starting though, we're going to lay down some groundwork. I'm going to tell you about who I am, my role at Xometry, as well as tell you what Xometry is and what we do if it's new to you. And then we're going to get into the meat and potatoes, if you will, of the discussion. What's unique about Xometry is we look at manufacturing from a variety of different processes and we're process agnostic and we see manufacturing as a landscape. I'll define that for you and then we're going to go through the strengths of injection molding as well as plastic 3D printing, and how we think about it, how we start the discussion with you, the customer or engineers who are looking to figure out what am I going to design this part for. We'll talk about comparisons, considerations, break evens and bridging those gaps. And then we'll finish up with some Q&A at the end.

You, the audience, I want to hear your questions, so please use that Q&A tab. Whenever you have a question, please submit that. We'll try to get to it as many as you can by the end of this webinar. I'll also try to consolidate these questions on the blog post that follows with the recording of this webinar. So this will be recorded and you will get an email with a recording of this webinar that you could take a look at afterwards or share with your friends as well.

So jumping into this, my name is Greg Paulsen. I'm the director of applications engineering here at Xometry. I actually just celebrated my 10-year anniversary with the company and the company's about 10 years old so I've seen a lot of changes, a lot of growth, and a lot of exciting updates, especially on our technology driven and manufacturing marketplace over the years. But I live in a practical world. I make parts. I work with customers and engineers to help make parts successful and I spend a lot of my time spinning CAD, looking at new materials, new processes, helping customers choose the right path forward and help explain why we may take that path over different ones because we have choices here at Xometry. And Xometry itself, we serve a very wide customer base. In fact, we're serving nearly 60,000 active buyers. So that's really exciting. That's anything from low volume prototypes up to fortune 10 companies that are using us for production goods.

We do this because as a marketplace model, we serve both the buyers as well as the suppliers. So the buyers being those who need parts or things made and the suppliers, those who are actually making those. The manufacturers of all different ways and sorts. And we're connected to over 10,000 manufacturers globally. Xometry North America is where I am, but we also have our global entities in Europe as well as Asia. And throughout this we give global access to dozens of manufacturing processes and fully fledged manufacturing services for you.

And we solve a lot of problems being a platform marketplace. Think about how Amazon or Uber or Lyft help get you connected to the right resource when you need it. Xometry does that by incorporating AI and technology right in the core of our instant coding engine. So you as a buyer, you could upload a file, get instant pricing and lead times on the majority of our technologies. We're not just making shapes for you, we're making real parts. You could click and specify exactly what you need, including certifications, qualifications, what type of inspection reports you need. All that can be selectable and then you just press buy and we take care of the rest. We're connected to this large supplier network. We use AI to match make with the parts you buy, that project, and we match it with the suppliers that we see trends with where we know that this project is going to be successful. Those suppliers get work on demand with stuff that they like to do. We work with relevancy with our AI matchmaking and we help them with cash flow and other access to tools and materials through our marketplace program as well. So it really is a win-win, both for the buyers and suppliers, all technology driven through Xometry's platform.

And when I talk about our capabilities, I'm out of hands. We're over 20 different manufacturing technologies here at Xometry that you could click and select when you're in the instant quoting engine. Our bread and butter is discrete manufacturer parts like CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, injection molding of course, one of the topics of today. 3D printing, the other topic, as well as other formative processes. Die casting, extrusion, tube cutting, embedding, metal stamping, urethane casting and much, much more. Xometry also has ThomasNet, which is a global directory of manufacturers offering over 76,000 industrial manufacturing categories. So if we don't have a direct quote here at xometry.com, you have a Thomas supplier listing, we can find the right supplier for you as well within that platform. And it is amazing for us as well as we continually are growing our capabilities and using the suppliers on Thomas to help us grow as well.

Let me go back to this really quick. I showed you these manufacturing capabilities. When I think about 3D printing though, it's not just a thing, it is many things. 3D printing is a technology umbrella. And under that umbrella, here are the 3D printing processes that Xometry offers. You don't need to memorize these all, but I want to show you the major trends that you may want to think about when you're looking at different manufacturing processes under additive manufacturing or 3D printing. The top two are polymers versus metals. We can't direct print metal materials most of the time. And the topic of today is going to be on polymer additive manufacturing. And underneath that polymer branch you have thermoplastics, which means I have a material when I apply heat it melts, so it plasticizes with heat. Thermoplastic. Or we have thermosets. Materials that through a reaction will harden the shape. In this case, most of these are going to be cured with UV light. Think about those fillings that you may have had if you had a cavity where you have something that's a liquid paste down, they shine it with a light, it hardens into a polymer. That's going to be a thermoset material.

So the most common materials and things that you see is going to be selective laser sintering, multijet fusion, which uses a powder-based material to actually produce parts. So it'll fuse that powder together and you have these really robust rigid parts. And we're going to talk a lot about that later on. Fused deposition modeling, which is what people are used to with ... If they're not familiar with 3D printing, they probably think all 3D printing is this. It's that filament-based 3D printing process where a filament is extruded through, melted and zigzagged back and forth to build your parts from bottom to the top. Under these thermosets ... I won't go through each one of these, but these are all based on liquid resin technologies.

They each have their unique niche and where they fit really well. Stereolithography tends to be the most popular. But if I'm looking at small part production, I may look at digital light synthesis, that DLS or LSPC. If I have needs for full color, like a little full-color mold flow part here. This is a direct 3D print from PolyJet, which can mix and match color. So take an inkjet printer but with the ability to do a third dimension as well. And then like I said, we have metal printing processes, direct metal laser sintering and binder jet metal, which both make metal parts but have different secondary processes where direct metal with laser sintering will fuse metal together, get a final part that needs supports removed. After the build, binder jet has secondary processes where I use a glue binder to hold metal powder together and then I have secondary furnace stages that'll sinter it to a solid piece.

And again, each one of those ... Whoops. As I click my link. My CTA. Follow my CTAs. But each one of these technologies is its own webinar. So it's something where I could go deeper and lot of these, we do have webinars on, but I do want to give you this overview as we go through these topics today in this discussion.

So when do I choose 3D printing over injection molding? That's the topic today. And well, the answer is it depends. So thanks so much for joining this webinar today. I hope you enjoyed it and have a great day. I'm just kidding though. Let's take some time and talk this through but I really want to start with this phrase because most of our manufacturing asks are exactly this. It depends. There are considerations, there are questions that I usually ask my customers. Where do you want to be six weeks from now, six months from now, six years from now? And there's different answers to that. So we're going to dive deeper into this and figure out all those questions, those nuances that may change your decision in one way or another.

And when I talk about manufacturing, especially here at Xometry, we always see this as a landscape. It's not just one technology or another, this versus that. These things blend together and there's reasons and purposes why I may go one direction or another. So I have this graph here. I really liked making this. It was fun. You guys give me kudos if you want because I enjoyed building this fluid diagram of manufacturing for plastic parts if you will. But if you go on that X-axis, you see that on the very left-hand side I have prototyping, then move to low-volume production and then high-volume production. I have plastics and rubbers, so polymerized materials, and you can see how these flow across the manufacturing landscape, especially on production quantities that we're looking for. This is how we see the world at Xometry. This is how we approach projects. Where are you right now? What do you need right now? What is important for you to be successful in this project? And it may have you land in different places. Like for example, plastic 3D printing. Or where do you need to be based on certain metrics may have you land here in injection molding.

What's really important to note though is on this far right, notice that the far right is dominated here by plastic extrusion, injection molding, and compression molding. If you don't believe me on this, take a look at your desk right now. Take a look at everything that's plastic around you. Hopefully you're not driving in your car, but look at your car. Look at the polymers. All those processes are made with one of these. I also say thermoforming. I should have put thermoforming down here. What you're seeing is there are production-viable plastic manufacturing processes that are very tried and true and once you get up to very high-level production, usually you are designing towards these because of a lot of advantages I'll talk about shortly here.

But there is a lot of opportunity in this space, especially as we're moving into IoT devices, drones, hardware startups, things that have advancements, revision changes and flexibility is required to be a business where you find that some of these discrete manufacturing options become a lot more viable and part of your core business and manufacturing strategy. So the next two slides here, I'm going to go through really an overview of these different technology verticals from injection molding versus 3D printing and then we're going to get into the nitty-gritty. So injection molding, what is that? What am I doing when I inject mold a part? I'm forming parts using an automated method by melting plastic feedstock into a mold cavity. I have a mold, it has essentially the cavity in the shape of my part. I am injecting this liquid plastic inside. It's cooling down. I need the mold to open up. I need the part to remove from that mold without being damaged and then it needs to close again and repeat. And that's a cycle. That's what we call a cycle time of injection molding.

So what I'm really doing when I look at an injection mold process is I'm making a tool for you. You say I want this part and I'm saying I need to design that tool that could get that part for you. So everything is around these parts as well as the tool options. My designs are considering how the material will flow. I need to think about how the material will flow and cool. So uniformity. I need to think about how can I open up that tool and not break anything. So I need to consider things like undercuts, how I'm going to plug that feature and then unplug that feature in order for the tool to open up and not tear my part in half. And draft. How can I open my tool without dragging a part through? These are all super important in the injection mold design phase.

When I'm building this tool, the tool can't just instantly rev change. There's always secondary machining or if the revision is a big enough change, you have to completely replace the tool. So you want to lock that design beforehand. And when I think about that cost driver, yeah, tool is the highest cost driver and that setups and machine utilization and any secondary finishing. But every time I make a part I amortize the cost of tool.

So why choose injection molding? Well, there's a lot of upside though. It is the best in class by far for manufacturing plastics to achieve a combination of material, cosmetic, and surface fit qualities. Again, look around you right now. Case in point, your laptop, your mouse, your mouse pads in some cases. Plastic components. These are typically injection molded. They have different surface textures. They're made with engineered polymers to hit those specific needs. You do need to make that tool, so the turnaround time starts at around a three to five week range depending on what type of tool method you're doing and moves on from there. There's a sampling process, so you'll get a T1 sample is the first good shots of the mold to verify. Then once they're verified, we'll do your production run for you and then any further production runs that you require. But once you start amortizing that tool, every time it opens and shuts and makes a part that per unit cost amortizes through and gets lower and lower and lower. I'm able to reuse that tool so this tools can have very high shop life. Even prototype tools are the tens of thousands of units range for shop life.

So a little bit different when I compare this to 3D printing. If you think about injection molding as the stuff around you, what you know, 3D printing is a little bit different. And I'm focusing on industrial 3D printing for this webinar today. 3D printing is growing parts. So taking a digital CAD file, slicing it, preparing it for my machine to interpret and then it's going to build those parts from bottom to the top using the unique processes per machine. Whether that's fusing powder with a laser, whether that is extruding filament and zigzagging back and forth, whether it is a DLP projector or projecting UV light on a single surface, creating a rigid cure in that area. All of that is respective of the process. But the rules are the same. It's using a 3D digital file to create that digital shape typically from a bottom to top movement.

Because each process has its own feedstock. You have to think about how the surface finish is based on the process alone. So resin base usually has a smoother surface, powder base is going to have a sugar cube-like grain surface, and filament-based 3D printing is going to have some more of that stair-stepping layer lines. But the benefit of this is I can build my shapes without thinking about tool access and open and closing for example. So complexity is much more accessible and cheap in 3D printing. In fact the making of that material, so less material on my part, less work for the 3D printer. So it is less expensive to make a cup than a solid cylinder for example with 3D printing. Those cost drivers are volume of material use, machine overhead, secondary finishing.

But why 3D printing? Why would I choose that? What are my benefits? Well I don't need tooling. I could access parts and get them made in one to three business days. So it just wins at low volume and prototyping without the need for setups or tooling required. You could also aggregate different features together in a single design to increase the function of that design and reduce part count because you have more flexible design rules than traditional manufacturing. And just frankly, 3D printing is the introduction for a lot of people into manufacturing these days. It has the lowest barrier to entry of any manufacturing process except maybe something like sheet cutting where I just need a 2D line and I'm using a laser or water jet to create that 2D shape with a 3D sheet. But otherwise a 3D CAD model is all you need to get started with 3D printing where other services typically require solid models, drawings and more of an engineering effort in order to get a feasible part.

When I'm talking to you, if you come to me and we start discussing your project, what type of questions am I asking? And this is how I framed out my thesis if you will for this presentation today. I have five topics that I'll usually ask and vet with you to understand where you are in this project. So these topics will help me balance the considerations on whether to go with injection molding or 3D printing along the way. So function and finish. What do you want it to do? What do you want it to look like? Design and geometry features. Nothing speaks more to me than spinning that 3D model. Let's see the CAD. Let's understand what your design features are, what your intention is. What's your budget? How many do you need? Not just how many do you need right now, but how many do you need six weeks from now? How many do you need each year? How many do you need in total? This demand. What does that demand look like? What does my output look like? And those deadlines. Do you need it tomorrow? Do you need it a couple of weeks from now? What's important for you? As well as think about those reorder deadlines. If we reorder again, how much time do you have in your demand planning to fill that order?

And you'll see that as I go through this that you're going to have some winners or trade-offs, if you will, between these processes. So let's start with function and finish here. And I have a graphic here which is our finish guide. If you go to xometry.com, look at finishes for injection molds, you'll find this as well. But I use this for reference because injection molding, what's unique about it is that finish and function play along pretty well. Because function is typically my material selection, which as I noted before, you have some of the widest varieties of materials. Plastics, elastomers, engineered polymers through injection molding. Finish is how I treat my mold. So say I have a mold cavity and I bead blast it. Then whatever I mold in it is going to take that bead blast look and it's going to transfer to the part. If I polish that mold, then whatever I mold in that will come out looking polished. So I can take a single material and apply the texture of the tool to get a different look out of that material.

So I really do have a high level of customization with the caveat that depending on what you want, you have different cost drivers. So it's almost a U-shape in costs where when you look at things like brushed matte, semi-coarse materials, so basically anywhere from lightly sanded to bead blast, is pretty commoditized and low cost. Doesn't really drive cost in tool.

But if you say the word I want optical, which is like an SPI-A1, I'm going to be diamond grinding that tool and it's going to add significant cost. And the same thing if you say, "Hey, I want cool dragon scales on my molded car interior." That's going to be the same way where that mold needs to go out to a specialized texturing source to get textured with their own magic ways of doing that. Chemical etching, lasers, you name it. And that's going to also be a cost driver. So just know that there's things you may want it all to look like, your dashboard or your vehicle, but depending on your quantities, there may be some cost specifications to have trade-offs there as well.

Now, it's different for 3D printing. We've mentioned that the 3D printing process will typically show you how the as-built surface finish turns out. So instead of saying, I want this material, I want this surface finish, we're usually going to start talking to you about attributes. What are you trying to achieve with this print? What is my goal for this print? If I'm going down the aesthetic or prototype range, I may be looking at what's acceptable for me in this prototype. Do I have small high-tech so I need high resolution? I may choose a stereolithography, that SLA process. If I'm looking for grainy or coarse surfaces, lowest cost is probably going to be these FDM, SLS and MJF. These thermoplastic 3D printing processes.

Now, I can vapor smooth them if I want to hit something smoother. And a great down select for this as well is like do I want clear? There's only a few 3D printing processes that make clear materials. They're resin based 3D printing. And so say for example, I want to clear part, I may choose Accura ClearVue, which is an SLA material and I could even do a spray coat to bring it up to a quick clear finish. So when I think about these attributes, I'm going to be thinking about what processes am I down selecting? If I had a card of all those nine processes, which cards am I taking away and what's left in between?

Functional is where I live most of my life. I live most of my career building on functional rugged parts. In fact, I have Nylon 11 here, which is a very durable 3D printed plastic. The easiest way for down selecting functional is a couple of things like does it need to be metal? And we have a couple processes there to do metal. If needs to be non-metal, does it need to be rubber? I only have a handful of processes do rubber 3D printing. And non-rubber, I need to know what attributes are going to be important to you. Impact resistant. Does it need a high heat deflection? Chemical resistance, flexibility, fade resistance? I had to fit this in a slide here, but there's a lot of questions that you can ask here, but those are all going to help me down select a process for you and it also, depending on the 3D CAD model, will help you down select what process can actually work for this. Because each 3D printing process has its own maximum builds or nominal builds. There's always exceptions to every rule, but this is a good guideline. Like some of these materials stop at about nine inches. So if I have a 14 inch part, I may be working with FDM, SLA and PolyJet where something below 10 inches, the world's my oyster on what I can choose here.

And again, I know this is a lot, so we have more resources on Xometry, but I want to show you how we think about approaching materials when you think of function and finish with 3D printing. So if you look at that going back function and finish, injection molding really has the optionality there. 3D printing takes you down different corridors, but you may have to make some trade-offs along the way depending on what your requirements are. So let's talk geometry now. Let's spin that CAD. Design and geometry features. Well in injection molding, even though you see everything around you is injection molded parts it is actually a very rigid way of designing. You need to think about uniformity, undercuts, drafts in your injection mold design. You can't say, "Hey, today for my injection mold part, I don't want my plastic to behave like this. I want it to not sink when I have a thick thin feature." You can't argue with the science of injection molding. So we always are approaching design for manufacturability. From you, the customer side, your responsibility's that uniformity. Understanding the undercuts and how to manage those. They're not bad, but they do drive cost. And draft angles. How is this part going to be removed? And that slight taper that allows it to be removed and create an air gap the second this tool starts opening up.

That does drive how I make those tools. So for example, this piece right here has undercuts these little lip tabs. These little lip tabs highlighted in green here. And in order to produce that in my tools ... This is actually the design of the tool for this. I have these little blue parts here that are called lifters that actually are in place when the tool is closed to make those features. And then when the tool opens up, they move away so that the part can efficiently eject. And so we need to design those features in if we have them and they do drive cost. Tool strategy is on our side. So as a manufacturer we think about how the designs got a part where we eject. So these pins that are going to gently push out the part so it doesn't flip or warp when we are ejecting it out of the mold and gating. So where am I going to inject that plastic into the part to get a successful fill? And again, no exceptions .it's very rigid rules even though it's well stated, it's still very rigid and it does require a learning curve to move in with injection molding.

Now printing doesn't quite have that learning curve. There's some minimum wall thicknesses and things like that, but you can design much more freeform with a 3D printed design. Complexity is often cheap and there's no upfront tooling or minimums. In fact, if I wanted to test out all these designs, I could throw five designs in his Xometry quote, press buy and get them all in one package to try them out. You can't do that with injection molding. You'd have to build a tool per design. So that forgiving DFM allows you to do a lot more with your designs. Think about purpose-driven designs. So you don't need to worry too much about thick to thin ratios. You don't need to worry about draft angles, undercuts, schmunder cuts if I will. And dialogue conditions, which could be a condition where certain geometries cannot be molded because I have no way of actually removing the tool once the part is molded. it holds it in place like a hand in the cookie jar if you will. And that's something we have to mitigate and we will flag with DFM. But you could actually achieve that and just make that design in a 3D printed design. Think about lattice structures. That's a great example. And again, I do not have those minimums there.

So design geometry. 3D printing has an advantage on what I could do with my design. So the next two, I'm clumping together because I ask these questions separately, but it really comes down to especially when you're tying together two processes, break even. So budget and demand, how many do you need and where's my break even point? Remember that manufacturing continuum where we had injection molding all the way at the right-hand side, even a high volume production. There's a reason why and at some point it just becomes cost justified.

So I have three examples that I'm going to go through pretty quickly here to show you what break even may look like. I have this junction housing. It's about eight and a half inches, it's by seven inches and I actually got a 3D print of that right in front of me here. So we have this junction housing that we'll take a look at for both injection molding as well as 3D printing. I got something smaller here, these little gripper branches part of a robotic gripping system. So I'll take a look at those. And then I couldn't find my switch lever today, but about the size of my pinky, I got a little switch lever for comparison as well. So let's jump in. Let's start with the largest and we'll move to the smallest and talk about break even points. So I'll walk through this graph with you and show you what I'm measuring here.

I essentially went through and started to quantify at different scales like 110, a hundred thousand, 2000, et cetera, the price point using injection molding for this design, using different types of plastic printing categories as well. As I added urethane calcium because I'm always curious myself, so why not? And I graphed this on a logarithmic scale. So at quantity one with injection molding is all in. This is my tool and parts and you can see that as I move in quantity it starts to amortize through. And it's not done by the way. That line still looks straight eventually it'll curve out like you see on these others, but it's not done yet on this. You could see how a lot of these 3D printing processes, they cap out pretty quickly. They have a little bit of more station but eventually end up being these horizontal lines here. And with the 3D printing versus injection molding break even on this, we're finding that somewhere between around 70 units is where 3D printing .... All of a sudden you may ask yourself, should I mold this? Is this something where I should move to molding? Especially if I know my demand is higher than that, I may commit up front to an injection mold tool where I could get parts on demand at a much lower per unit cost.

So FDM and plastic powder bed fusion are the top contenders. I actually put in urethane casting. I noticed that urethane casting capped up around 200 compared to injection molding. But my throughput may be so low that that may be consideration where the lead time would just be so long to get 200, I'll move the mold anyway. So there's other reasons why I may change my mind there. So when we think about cost drivers in 3D printing, we're usually thinking about the volume. How many parts can I make per day? If you look at this design or this right here, this is a build nested for selective laser sintering. So I think a 13 by 13 by 23 inch build area. And you can see in a nested build, if I was just making this junction housing alone, I could optimize for about 11 parts. So thinking about this writing like 11 parts every about 24 hours or so. So my throughput, it's okay, but it's not great for a part that size. And you'll find that larger parts tend to ... They're cheap upfront compared to injection molding, but as you add quantity, injection molding starts to look a lot more attractive.

So looking at this now, the same scale, same size here, 11 parts here. I'm not even full with this build chamber and I have 250 of those parts nested. So the gripper branch, that's smaller geometry in plastic powder bed fusion actually once again was a top contender and you ended up getting a break even around that 250 to 500 unit. And what we're talking about is that at that point a unit cost all in, where'd they meet up. Again, tooling is still amortizing. It hasn't flattened out yet unlike the 3D printing processes. But right at that 250 to 500 unit you could see, you know what? This is starting to get attractive for 3D printing. I may just be able to do sustained just in time production for this part and not have to have this large backlog of inventory. And it's something that you could definitely consider and work into your logistics plan.

So let's look at that smallest part there. That switch lever about the size of my pinky. That's 250 of those switch levers. So again, you have more optimized nesting here and what I'm showing here is SLS build area, but you can really see how that can affect my per unit cost. And even more of a good argument for this, can I stay with 3D printing through my production lifecycle? Because my breakeven now is about 2,000 units. So if I have any need or annual demands that are less than that, I may consider just staying with my additive manufacturing approach, especially if I think my revision is going to change. So one of the things about if you have a revision change, you have to tool up or change that tool. Have an engineering change order against it. 3D printing, you can just put a new file in and keep on printing. So you can see how size of geometry typically smaller size items tend to have a better economy of scale and get more cost competitive versus injection molding. [inaudible 00:33:22].

So the last thing, when do you need it by? We talked a little bit about this before, but with injection molding, it's a stack of different project management steps. When you order a molded part, I'm able to give you pricing and lead time, but then we want to kick off. We want to make sure everything that you want we're encompassing in the scope of the project. So we got that DFM, so that DFM kickoff. We're not going to be cutting metal, we're not going to be cutting tools at that time. We're going to make sure we're all signed off on exactly what you want. That's going to be about two to four business days after your order. Tool making, two to four weeks typical for most projects. Again, the more complex materials are if you're doing a production tool for example, you could double that or more depending on what you need. And then those T1 approvals, we're going to ship you those first parts. You're going to approve them. Once you get approved about one to two weeks for us to produce those parts, ship them to you for your first set and then of course you can always reorder from there. We'll set that tool back up one to two weeks, get those parts out to you again.

So there's a cumulative stack of weeks when you're looking at injection mold tooling. But at the end you do get that molded part and you have that high-level amortization for reorders as well. In 3D printing though, click drag, upload, press buy. It's very simple to use to order 3D printed parts 24/7. You get your first parts and as low as a business day. On our website, we can actually rush SLS or FDM in a business day. And you have that benefit on-demand production as well.

So I went over a few different processes when we did the break-even. And I did add this slide here to walk through some of the common methods for 3D printing production and walk through the what's and why. There's going to be some similar methods here, but I thought this would be great to actually introduce to you all as well. So when I look at common 3D printed methods for production, I'm typically thinking about throughput. I'm thinking about throughput and cost. Can I produce a strong durable part? Can I produce it relatively quickly, hopefully at volume? And can I get costs that are at least somewhat in the range of what I expect for production molding? Because at Xometry I offer molding too. So I'm thinking about this manufacturing continuum even when I'm helping with these decisions here.

The first one ... And actually I'll put the first two because they're so similar together. HP Multijet Fusion and selective laser sintering, both our plastic powder bed fusion technologies. What that means is that they take a raw material, almost feels like flour, it's actually a polymer like nylon, polypropylene or TPU. And in their own way, they're going to fuse that material together layer by layer. A new layer of material is going to go across about the thickness of a sheet of paper. And then again, they're going to go through fusion. It's going to fuse not just that X and Y cross-section of the parts, but also in the Z cross-section. The magic of these processes is that they do not require support structures. So support structures are sacrificial features on 3D prints that get removed afterwards but are needed because it turns out gravity exists. So if I'm building something that has a little L shape or overhang at the top, if I was just building that and there was nothing underneath it when I deposit or fuse material, it would just sag down. There wouldn't be anything actually holding it in place. So we build supporting structures to support that feature, build that feature out, and then after a job is done, we remove those supports and I have my part.

With SLS and MJF, the parts are fused in a powder bed. So imagine me taking a golf ball, sticking in a powder bed and letting go. The golf ball doesn't sink, the golf ball doesn't float, it just stays there. That's why these parts do not need support structures because they're just suspended. So after these jobs are done, you have a treasure hunt. The whole build chamber cools down, we call it cake. We have this big cake of powder and we start pulling parts out of that cake and then we'll bead blast and post-processing from there. But that allows me to not just reserve what's next to each other but what's around in a Z direction as well. So I can get full bulk rates with something like MJF or SLS.

In the photopolymer range, typically the quickest turn photopolymers are going to be these DLP style processes where they're drawing parts out of a resin vat. LSPC is actually mass SLA, but it could do that style where it's actually very quickly fusing a liquid resin and growing those parts out. DLS in the same way in its own unique method. And then DLP styles as well, which are just going to be projectors are going to be making these parts. They're very quick turn because you can exchange builds very quickly. A lot of times these builds are finishing within a business day, so you're able to move them and switch them out. You do have that resin-like surface finish. So one of the best surface finishes for a direct 3D print without secondary processing. And then those resins can be engineered. So unlike these where you have true thermoplastics, you can get engineered resins out of this that behave like thermoplastics and have their own unique properties to them. There are some things to consider like heat deflection, temperature and different chemical compatibilities and stuff, but you can't get some really great parts out of photopolymer processes.

And the last one is fused deposition modeling. This is also building with real thermoplastics. It's more of a boutique build where the filament I put in is what the part's going to be made out of. So if I put in a red filament that's ABS, I get a red ABS part. If I put in my tan Ultem, I get my tan Ultem part. I'm setting those up in my machine machine's, feeding that through, creating those parts. A lot of times there's a secondary material for supporting structure and multi-material is getting more common actually in the desktop range. Not so much in an industrial side.

But that being said, it is like drawing with a crayon. I am scribbling in, I'm filling in the part one at a time. So a FDM machine by itself can be slow, but I could get a lot of them and I could build a farm with them. And this is the production method ... When you look at FDM, you're typically looking at print farms, which you're talking about dozens upon dozens, sometimes hundreds of machines that are able to on demand produce parts. So you really look at parallel processing with FDM more than any of these other subjects. That being said, at Xometry we have the benefit of everything where we're able to run industrial larger scale processes and run them in parallel with our manufacturing network. So we have the best of all worlds, but a lot of times that's the advantage here. That's how you get that throughput and that low cost.

So to recap ... And I see some questions coming in. Please keep on asking questions though. I'd love to answer questions and we'll get to that in just a moment here. But the recap, should I print or mold this part? So when I think about polymer 3D printing, I think about the fact that you don't have minimums. You don't need minimums for this. You can put one digital file, you could serve a customer of one or use that for prototyping or you could put several iterations of a design in and try them all out at once. So you could hit one offs to low thousands of units with 3D printing methods. I will say smaller pieces can scale to production and also I have over here, these two work together. Non-cosmetic, it's typically a stronger case for additive manufacturing than cosmetic pieces where they may need a shine or color for example, because that post-process can drive up the cost. Rev resiliency is really powerful in additive manufacturing.

I work with a veterinary client who has a otoscope adapter for their cell phone. What happens to cell phones every year? They change. And so they're never going to mold the cell phone adapter for their otoscope. Everything else is made with formative manufacturing processes, die casting, stamping, injection molding. But that case adapter, every year they change the revision to match different models and they order just in time or on demand depending on the models that they have and that's how they could be successful at their business. That revision, the thing that you're attaching to is changing all the time so they have to be adapted to that and they choose additive manufacturing. And again, I could add features together. I could create something complex and I can work with that quick to lead time and that just-in-time mentality.

Now, plastic injection molding, it's the establishment man. So it's something that we are used to. I could build from low hundreds to thousands to millions of components. Even though we don't technically have a minimum, it makes sense to at least build 50 with this because most of that cost is going into that tooling that you're producing up front. But I can hit specific cosmetic and clarity requirements. This part right here, for example, I 3D print the TPU buttons, but that blue polycarbonate piece is actually injection molded because they wanted transparent blue. And that's something that is very difficult to achieve without manual processing with additive manufacturing, but I can mold that exact resin to that exact pigment with injection molding. I can also hit stringent facility requirements. I'm doing medical molding for example. I can get into a 13-45 facility to produce medical devices and parts. That's something where in additive there's just more red tape to get through those hurdles.

And the same thing with qualified materials. There are materials that are tried and true, especially in the medical area or automotive industry that they already have their UL cards, they have FDA approvals. And so what you're really doing is validating shape and helps you get through those approval processes much faster in your product lifecycle. But you do need to have that fixed state for your moldable design. You can't change your mind halfway through without expecting to pay or have some disruption in your tooling lifecycle. And you do need more lead time to produce your parts.

So do they play nicely with each other? Yes. Yes they do. And this is what I see all the time. If you're not incorporating additive manufacturing into your product development lifecycle right now, your competitors are. It's just something that works for the process. It bridges product development and production together. And this is really what I mean from this. We are agile. We are not waterfall in manufacturing. So at Xometry we have all these options available and you may start with your initial prototypes using a 3D printer process. But if I know ... If you're telling me that, hey, I'm looking to mold or I need 700 of these units every six months and this geometry dictates molding because of these requirements, we're going to start having that conversation with you about design for manufacturability

 for molding while you're working through your editor of 3D printing. And we love to have that conversation early with you. We could build a parallel path to production. So as we work through, you could keep on iterating with your concept models. You get initial pricing for injection molding, get your final quote, commit to that quote. I always say buy your insurance policy, buy a high resolution 3D print of that design. Make sure everything fits together. That's a good way to validate before we kick off tooling there.

And even if you need bridge production, even if you want to serve your first customers, you could use 3D printing or urethane casting or even quick turn molding to help satisfy that need while your production mold is being produced. And like I mentioned, we have T1 samples. You approve those samples and then we produce those parts delivered to you and anytime you could reorder from there. This is typical. This is new manufacturing, especially when you have an integrated platform like Xometry where you can enter the manufacturing stage through one single platform. Our instant quoting engine. We hit the certifications you need. ISO 9,001 with 13-45 for medical devices. We've had this but I finally got the certificate so we could actually talk about it. We're IATF 16949 for automotive manufacturing, AS9100D for flight and aerospace. So we hit those check marks and we're able to extend those capabilities throughout our network to make sure that we have those flow down requirements as well to meet your needs. Again, we're not making shapes here at Xometry, we're making real parts and we want to make your parts as well.

So we have this instant quoting engine. You could securely upload, start configuring right away and get your parts on time. We just added a great new experience as well for our molding. So when you start an injection molding project, you're actually going to get this tool details page. It's going to magically appear for you. And with our injection molding, because we do have those different stages of vetting through, we now have a tool detail page where you could see where you are.

So what's your tool? Who needed to contact about this tool? What quotes have parts for this tool in it? What's the status of this? What is quotes and orders? How many parts is this tool make? And where you are. Whether that's quote requested, DFM in production, sample reviews, or it's ready for production so you're ready for making your parts of reordering. That's all very visible now with our tool details page. So that's part of our platform already. And if you're used to our other sharing tools like our collaborative tool called Teamspace, which is part of Xometry's platform, you can also share a tool with your team. They can order parts off of that as well. It makes it very clean and seamless, especially when in a production environment where you're working with QA yourself, an engineering team, procurement, all you can collaborate on Xometry free platform.

I talked a lot today guys, so thank you so much for sticking around and listening as well. We have a lot of resources. Every single manufacturing technology that we offer, we have resources, webinars, design guides, you can find that all going to xometry.com, clicking onto the resources tab or the our solutions tab. I love the capabilities pages that we've made under each technology vertical that we offer. I hope you sign up for our blog posts and our subscriptions and updates because you could see what new products are coming out as soon as they come out. As well as some great case studies that we're coming off with recently. And I see some in the works right now which are pretty exciting.

And with that I see some questions coming in and please keep on asking questions. Anything I don't get to in the next 10 minutes or so, I'll also try to get to afterwards and I'll send you an email follow up. I want you all to try Xometry's instant quoting engine. If you haven't tried it out, we have a promotion right now going on in June. New June 50 for $50 off your next Xometry order of over $50. For those of you who are current Xometry customers, stay tuned for your email, you'll get something in email from us. And with that, let me just jump in. I'll start looking at some of these questions here.

Yeah. All right. So I got a question from Steve running through. So I'll move my question tab right in front of me here. So can we comment on transition from 3D printing low volume to injection for high volume and also especially if I need a metal thread. So this is actually something important. Threads in 3D prints, because of the coarseness of a print, I may not directly print a thread unless it's a larger coarse of thread itself. So I typically recommend two things with 3D printing. Either I install with a brass insert that could be a screw to expand or a heat set. By the way, that's selectable on Xometry quoting engine. Just click inserts and make sure you call out what you need there. And that's typically how you're working with 3D prints. If I'm moving to injection mold, depending on your quantity, we may continue with using a heat set insert, which we could heat set or create an ultrasonic horn to actually set those in place. There's also screwing winding and unwinding tools where we can actually mold in that thread using specific tools to create those features or hand-loaded cores to create those threads so the thread is actually in the plastic. And the plastic, since it's isotropic in injection molding is typically more durable for that operation.

Also, if you all are not used to thread-forming screws like plastite screws, they are godsend. So if you are making handheld devices or something where you need a good permanent fix for a screw thread-forming allow you just to make a drill hole essentially in your design. And whether it's a plastic, 3D print or injection mold, it may be a way to reduce part counts and mitigate the need for putting a brass insert in the first place. But we could definitely handle it. And the real question is how many do you need? And that's going to change the way that we're going to handle it on the mold side, we could actually put the inserts in the mold, mold, the part around those inserts. We can heat set afterwards. We could create an apparatus to do that or we give you alternatives like thread forming within the tool itself.

Someone asked about the SLS as a functional part manufacturing method. It definitely is. I'm an SLS runner. That's the first process that I use. Selective laser sintering. This part here is SLS. And again, this part I built years ago, it's not going anywhere. It is fully functional. So it's definitely part of the process. It's definitely something I recommend. It's one of my go-tos. SLS and MJF are the 90% tool. 90% of the time for additive manufacturing, they should be the first place you start and then everything else has this niche on why you should move there.

Let me go through here. All right. Doug had a question actually on urethane casting. So this in-between phase. I mentioned this. Urethane casting is a way to make parts where I could hit color match. I have more material selections on that and I have more finished selections than I do with additive, but I don't have as many as I do with injection molding. So it's a good bridge tooling option for you. So materials ... It's not necessarily like materials like ABS, polycarbonate, those type of materials. It's more like ABS-like, polypropylene-like, polycarbonate-like materials. And then we can tune and get different formulas to hit different properties. So your material selection is a little bit different than what I would do with a thermoplastic injection molding process, but it's a good way to simulate designs, especially if you're in that mid-range where you're in that 30 to 70 range. Urethane casting is a viable option as well.

So Travis had a great question too. And does your break even consider post-processing time? Is there a big difference between post-processing for injection for say FDM? I kept it pretty pure. I just kept it on the per unit cost. You're absolutely right. Different processes have different post-processing times to it. Some are much more automated than others. For example, SLS and MGF, they don't require support structures. So I'm able to automate that. There's some automated de-blasting processes and things to get the parts post-processed and cleaned off to 96% where our team could just finish them up at the very end. FDM, depending on the process, some have soluble support structures, so I can just throw this into a vat, come back a little bit later and the support structure are gone.

But when I need to mainly remove support structures, then you are adding labor time and particularly for DLP-style 3D printing and SLA-style printing methods for production. You want to think about ... Let me see if I have a good example here. You want to think about how can I design this to mitigate as many supports as possible. So for example, this part here, this little gripper branch, I have this cored out area, which is great for molding, but I actually, I may be safer if I cored it out on this side if I was designing for DLP because then this space can remain flat, it could build this whole part without requiring support structures. I just pop it off the build tray. So that's some DFM our team can give you. But there's definitely some things you need to consider when you're looking at a DLP or photopolymer-based processing, especially with production. Every single manual movement, you're adding my labor time to that part and that can really add up.

Let's see. Andrew was asking about other SLS materials. So SLS, right now our ops for SLS are Nylon 12, Nylon 11. And then filled variants, carbon filled, glass filled, mineral filled and aluminum filled. Each have their own unique properties and we actually have a webinar on that as well. Whenever there's a new powder, it's always difficult to onboard those materials until you have a redundant network. Especially Xometry as a manufacturing marketplace, we're connected to manufacturers running those materials. So we need a sufficient network, especially a network that can hit the capabilities that our customers are looking for, running those materials and then something we consider onboarding to that. So I think there's some really exciting materials that are out there for all these manufacturing processes. What we look for is that a demand from our customers and is that a redundancy in our network for us to supply it and give our customers reliance on quality and lead time on everything they press buy for?

Let me go through. By the way, thank you all. Awesome questions. And like I said, I'll try to get through as many as I can. At the end of the hour though, I'll catch up with all of you who've asked questions. So just keep on running. This is awesome. Thank you so much. Oh, this is one I was waiting for. I was surprised I had to scroll down for this. Can you 3D print a mold? So Irving asked the can 3D printer functional mold? Here's the truth is yes, comma, but, or it depends. Let's go back to my, it depends answer. So there are definitely advantages you could have. So if imagine me 3D printing the mold. I don't have that multiple week downtime. I can just print my mold overnight, I can then close, open, make parts, get plastic parts out of it. That's the dream. That's what we want.

There's a challenge. Molds closing at extreme pressure. There's extreme high heat that goes in. That part needs to be held at pressure and then it needs to cool within a mold. Now when molds are typically made out of metal ... So the part cooling is pretty quick because that metal which has fluids running through, we actually have cooling lines through, it's going to be dissipating that heat, crystallizing that part much quicker. When you 3D print a mold, say polymer based, it's an insulator. You have some worries about how much you're going to cool. And I've heard molders that are trying this out where they're just jetting air on it, just blasting with air, trying to get that part to cool down. So your cycle times are higher. Your surface finish looks like a 3D print. At Xometry right now, we haven't found a good connection with 3D printed molds that gives us a reliability for you as a customer.

I want you to trust me when you press buy. I do not want your parts to be my science experiment. Now I have printed molds for customers who are molding themselves. That's no problem. And that's something where you're assuming the risk for yourself creating those features and running the mold. And that may last for one shot, it may last for a hundred shots, but you're assuming the risk there. I can't assume that a risk for our customers, but it's something where we're always taking a look into. We have seen a lot of professional developments in injection molding using metal 3D printing for applications like conformal cooling. And that's where we've seen the ability to create cooling channels that aren't just straight lines but can actually creep up to features to cool the parts faster, give faster cycle times, and it's actually very viable for high-volume production molds.

So skip the prototype mold and you can see that there's an advantage from metal 3D printing in that stage of molding. But it's something we definitely have our eyes on where we're always very excited about. But at the same time we always look at ... We put on our quality hat first and when we deliver to our customers and us doing that as a service right now doesn't hit that quality standard that we're looking for. So we'll cut a low-volume mold, for example, out of aluminum 7,000 series versus building it via 3D printing.

All right. I also see some of you are talking about costs on individual parts. I highly recommend trying out Xometry's instant quoting engine, upload your files. Injection mold. You can submit your quote and our team of engineers will get back to you within about one to two business days. So please use the website, take a look and yeah, you'll get some rough order of magnitude estimations. Is that what you need? Or we can get you an accurate finalized quote very quickly as well.

All right. Let me see. I'll try to get one or two more. Actually I like this. I'm going to end with this one where a customer had experience ... They've tried out a couple of different 3D printing processes for replacing a molded part. So what I call MRO, maintenance, repair and operations. This is a great advantage that I could do with 3D printing. I could hit that low volume to replace something there. They were working with 3D printed parts and they worked with multijet fusion and they found that there was that grainy texture to the parts that didn't hit the flexibility of the pliability that they had on the molded. And then FDM because that layer by layer FDM had that a weak spot in the lamination. This is actually a great example of why we have such a wide selection of 3D printed parts. So if you're looking for high pliability, in thermoplastics, things like Nylon 11 which are available through a couple of our processes, can work much better than a Nylon 12, which is the default because it has a higher flex before break. As well as we have a 3D printable polypropylene in multijet fusion as well, which may fit that bill.

I also highly recommend a secondary finishing that you can do to parts like MJF and SLS called chemical vapor smoothing. And on my video here you can see a chemical vapor smoothed part. And by removing the graininess with that secondary finishing, a lot of times that strain before break increases so the chemical properties are improved on those parts and works a lot better. And that's good for plastic powder bed fusion. We also have some really cool flexible materials under carbon, digital light synthesis, where I have a flexible test on that where they could dance all day, including FPU, which is a flexible polyurethane material through that. But I really want to express the gamut of different materials and technologies that we have, and I think that's a great way to finish this is we have choices at Xometry. We like to do these webinars to show you how and what direction you should go to. But in the end, we also have these great resources online. We have our staff, we have engineers in every subject that we offer at Xometry. We have experts in every field and we're always happy to help and support you on your mission.

With that being said, thank you so much for joining today's webinar. I'll get to the other questions after this. I'll follow up via email. And just really appreciate your time and thanks and have a great day.

Xometry Video:

Building modern machines, devices, cars, or even bicycles requires a complex manufacturing supply chain. You constantly need to vet and maintain your manufacturing network, which takes time, money, and effort. Ultimately, this distracts companies from doing what they do best, building and manufacturing products. This is where Xometry comes in. We have built a leading manufacturing network with over 10,000 vetted manufacturers globally. Xometry connects people with big ideas to the manufacturers who can bring them to life. With our AI powered instant quoting engine, you can get quotes for your prototypes and production parts in just a few clicks. You can choose from over a dozen manufacturing processes and hundreds of material and finishing options. All you need to do is get your quote, place your order, and Xometry takes care of the rest. From selecting the most experienced, certified manufacturer, to performing quality inspections according to your required industrial standards, and having the parts delivered to you reliably and on time. Xometry makes it easy for engineers and purchasers at both small and large companies to tap into global manufacturing capacity and create resilient supply chains. From prototypes to high-volume production, build your products with Xometry. Xometry, where big ideas are built.

Greg Paulsen - Xometry Contributor
Greg Paulsen
They call me the Director of Application Engineering at Xometry. This means I not only get to produce great design-for-manufacturing content but also consult on various custom manufacturing projects using CNC machining, additive manufacturing, sheet metal, urethane casting, and injection molding. If you have a question, I'm your guy.

Read more articles by Greg Paulsen

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