Some of the common manufacturing processes for Low volume production runs are as follows:
3D Printing is commonly used for prototyping, hence it is also referred to as Rapid Prototyping given its faster turnaround time, but lately, manufacturers have started using it for low volume production runs, as well. When the number of quantities are lesser, opting for tooling is not a viable option, given the significant costs incurred in designing and manufacturing the mold, and the higher timelines associated with the same. Also, investing in tooling is not feasible when you may want to alter the design of your product at a later stage. 3D Printing is mainly used to manufacture small batch of products to test them within your sample size. This gives you a clear understanding of the market, and paves way for changes, if any, in your product, before you opt for mass manufacturing. Unlike tooling, batch production with 3D Printing is economical, and involves shorter lead-times.
Note: 3D Printed parts cannot simulate the properties of an injection molded part, since 3D Printed material properties are different than Injection molded material properties.
- Ideal batch Size: 0–200 sets (highly depends on the part size and volume)
- Advantages: Economical; shorter lead-times (3–5 days); Complex parts can be manufactured.
- Technology Used: Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Material Used: Nylon, Glass-Filled Nylon
- Expected Tolerance: (+/-) 200µm
- Finishing Options: Painting, Dyeing
Silicone molding or Vacuum casting generally refers to the production of parts under vacuum using silicon molds. In this technology, usually, a master pattern is prepared from 3D Printed Stereolithography (SLA) process. A silicon mold is then made from this master-pattern. The casting medium (molten plastic or rubber) is then poured in the silicon mold under vacuum. Parts produced using vacuum casting process are precise replicas of the original pattern with profiles & textures being truly replicated.
- Ideal batch Size: 20–50 sets
- Advantages: Economical for bigger parts; shorter lead-times (3–5 days)
- Material Used: ABS, PC+ABS, Polypropylene-like, Nylon etc.
- Expected Tolerance: (+/-) 150–200µm/100mm
- Finishing Options: Painting
3D Printed Molds for Injection Molding:
PolyJet 3D printed Injection molds are a superior option to evaluate part design and performance. The mold is prepared from Polyjet technology. These molds are then mounted onto an Injection Molding machine. The advantage of using Polyjet mold is that, the actual end-use production grade thermoplastic materials can be injected into the mold. This way companies can test and evaluate the component which has the actual material properties, as desired, before routing the parts for mass production. Parts manufactured from Polyjet molds have high resolution and impart good, smooth surface finish.
- Ideal batch Size: 50–100 sets
- Advantages: End-use Production grade materials can be injected; Good, smooth surface finish.
- Material Used: End-use injection molding thermoplastics
- Expected Tolerance: (+/-) 100µm
- Finishing Options: Painting