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Innovative Applications of 3D Printing in the Plastics Industry

Updated: Jun 19

Post Credit - Plastic Technology


Additive manufacturing isn't aiming to replace traditional plastics manufacturing methods where they excel. Regarding mass production, injection molding far outpaces 3D printing speed and efficiency. Nevertheless, 3D printing is increasingly proving its worth as a complementary tool rather than a competitor. It's enhancing the plastics industry and broadening the scope of possibilities for plastic parts across various applications and industries including:


Mold Tooling

Mold Tooling 3d printing

Using 3D-printed molds offers the advantage of saving time and costs, especially during prototyping in actual end-use materials. When there's a need for a new design, 3D printing provides a quicker path to create a new tool, and it also allows for easy repair or modification of existing ones. Although metal 3D printing methods like laser powder bed fusion have been traditionally popular for mold tooling, there are emerging options worth considering, including more accessible metal printing techniques and short-run molds crafted from alternative materials like polymer composites.


Prototype and by-Product Development

Prototype and by-Product Development

While 3D printing remains indispensable for rapid prototyping, its capabilities have evolved significantly. Today, with suitable materials and printers, prototypes can often serve as functional production parts. Brackets, electronics enclosures, ducts, medical device components, and more can now be reliably produced using 3D printing technology.


End of Arm Tooling (EOAT)

End of Arm Tooling (EOAT) 3D Printing

The role of robots in manufacturing encompasses a range of tasks including sorting, transporting, palletizing, inspecting, and machining. Each robot's end-of-arm tool (EOAT) or end effector is chosen based on the specific operation it performs, like gripping or welding, tailored to the tools or parts the robot handles. Robotic arms excel in executing various tasks with remarkable endurance, speed, and precision. The integration of 3D printing in end-of-arm tooling components not only saves time and costs but also yields lighter parts with enhanced performance and durability.


Fixtures/Attachment

Fixtures/Attachment 3D Printing

With the rise of affordable desktop 3D printers, creating custom items for plant use has become convenient and budget-friendly. Items like inspection fixtures, assembly tools, and check gauges can now be easily produced. For instance, using mold design tools, CMM nests can be created by generating the inverse of the part, resulting in a 3D-printable fixture design. The advantage extends further: once these fixtures are designed for 3D printing, they can be saved as digital files. So, if a fixture gets damaged or lost, it's a simple task to print a replacement quickly.


Customized Goods and Services

Customized Goods and Services 3d printing

The versatility of 3D printing allows for seamless customization of product designs to meet individual needs or specific requirements. From personalized medical equipment such as splints and hearing aids to tailored consumer goods like shoe insoles and sports gear, the technology offers endless possibilities for creating products that perfectly fit the user.


Digital Inventory

Digital Inventory 3d printing

The convenience and efficiency of storing digital files for 3D printing have led many major OEMs, military branches, and government agencies to embrace this technology for sourcing spare parts and facilitating system maintenance. Components such as clamps, clips, and brackets can be easily 3D printed on demand, eliminating the need for extensive physical inventory management or storage space. Moreover, digital inventory offers the advantage of distribution flexibility. Through collaborations with manufacturing partners or by deploying printers across various facilities, organizations can produce necessary parts closer to their point of use.


Batch-Produced
Batch-Produced 3D Printing

3D printing is a serial production method suitable for various products, especially those benefiting from complex geometries. It excels in both large-scale production, capable of churning out of thousands of pieces, and small batches with no minimum order requirement. This technology is ideal for creating items such as brackets, phone cases, valves, medical implants, packaging solutions, and many more.

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