The demand for plastic parts across multiple industries shows no sign of slowing down. After a slight downturn in 2020 due to the worldwide pandemic, current projections call for an 8% compound annual growth, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2023. One of the technologies manufacturers rely on to meet this production demand is 3D printing. It offers a way for automotive companies, commercial goods producers and consumer product manufacturers to make plastic production parts when other technologies like molding aren’t optimal.
If you’re not familiar with the technology, 3D printing builds objects using an additive process. For this reason, it is also known as additive manufacturing. A CAD model of the part to be built is virtually “sliced” using 3D print preparation software. This information is then used by the 3D printer to deposit material to build each slice in a layer-on-layer fashion until the part is complete. 3D printers employ a variety of materials using different methodologies.
For production volumes below several hundreds of thousands, 3D printing is in many cases the best solution. That’s because 3D printing has inherent advantages over technologies such as injection molding for this scenario. For starters, additive manufacturing is a “tool-less” technology. There is no tooling investment required to make the parts, as there is with molding. This frees it from the limitations posed by economies of scale, enabling on-demand production and the ability to manufacture in quantities not economically possible with the other technologies.