3D printing requires no moulds, patterns, tooling, etc. The design gets printed without much further ado. Thus, the cost of production is much lower than traditional manufacturing.

With traditional manufacturing, the product undergoes at least 3 iterations during prototyping.

Typical NPI flow

Each iteration typically requires a new tool and mould. Injection moulds are expensive to make. They are justifiable only in high volume production. Moulds also have long lead times. Therefore the product prototyping process becomes very expensive and time-consuming.

Whenever there is a design revision, the mould needs to be changed. Low-cost materials are normally used for moulds during the prototyping process. Even then the labour, design and manufacturing costs associated with mould making are very high.

The final production mould is typically made from hardened steel. Steel moulds cost more to construct. This is because they have a longer lifespan.

Each mould can also have from a few weeks to a few months of lead time. In the prototyping process flow, the mould thus becomes the critical path. If there is a delay in making the mould, the whole project gets delayed. Designers also have to conform to DFM principles. This is to make sure the part can actually be manufactured.

 

Standard Two Plate Injection Moulding tool

Standard two-plate injection moulding tool

Source: Wikipedia

This whole chain of events is completely circumvented by additive manufacturing.

With traditional manufacturing, the process flow model is as follows:

Product➔Design➔Tool making➔Mold➔Prototype➔Design Revision➔Tool Making➔Mold➔Prototype➔Make➔Assemble➔Test➔Ship

The length of the process flow is greatly reduced by additive manufacturing. The new model looks like this:

Design➔Print➔Prototype➔Design Revision➔Print➔Test➔Ship.

Main advantages that derive from the new model:

  • Faster Prototyping
  • Shorter time to market
  • Lower process costs
    • less tooling, less assembly, less cycle time.

The advantages that arise from not having moulds, patterns, tooling, et cetera for every iteration is quite obvious here.