Much of the time, 3D printing is utilized for prototype creation not final production. Temporary products are created to test and measure how well a product will work before final design approval and before tooling is set up for the final product. Traditionally prototyping is used to catch errors and faults in product development. The earlier the errors are caught in the product development life cycle, the less expensive it is to fix those errors. Most of the time, after the prototypes are made, expensive molds and tooling are created for the production of thousands of pieces of the product. This works well when you are producing thousands of parts, and your cost per piece decreases with each production run. What happens when you only need a short run of about 100 pieces and the tooling or molding costs exceed $10,000. R & B Wagner recently had this exact situation.
The Wagner Companies manufacture and stock products for metal fabricators and produces custom products for architectural and industrial systems. They recently developed a hinge fixture that would slightly change the angle of a LED mount and redirect the light beam to a more efficient angle. They only needed 100 or so copies of this plastic hinge. The estimated tooling cost for this short-run project was about $10,000. Tooling for this sort of job was not cost effective, so they contacted MasterGraphics to help them with their issue.
MasterGraphics started by printing a single copy (like traditional prototyping), to test if the Acrylate plastic printed on the ProJet 3500 was a good fit for the application. There are many different materials that are used in 3D printing, and testing for production is a very important step. After a quick test, it was determined that the 3D printed part would function just as well as the manufactured part. R & B Wagner decided to have MasterGraphics print the 100 copies of the hinge at about 1/10 of the cost of tooling. On top of the greatly reduced cost of the hinge components, R & B Wagner received their short run production in a couple days, as opposed to a few weeks.
Using a 3D printer for short run production can be very cost and time effective. You may be printing the final production part, printing the necessary tooling, or printing the mold used to create parts; but all three reduce cost and time to manufacture by an extreme amount. Having 3d printing at your disposal is invaluable to custom and short run manufacturing.
By Jack Wolf, Imaging Solutions – MasterGraphics