There are a few different processes that are often compared to plastic injection molding when it comes to producing parts, and one that’s cropping up more and more in recent years here is 3D printing. In particular, clients are always looking for the most affordable ways of producing quality products – which of these methods will have the advantage for the project you’re considering?

At EnviroTech Custom Injection Molders, we’re here to offer a wide range of injection molding products and services to clients in numerous fields, from the medical equipment industry to automotive, defense, mining and dozens more. What should you be considering when it comes to the costs of injection molding versus 3D printing for any production need you may have, and which will be ideal? Here’s a deep dive into everything you need to know.

Knowing the Main Strengths of Each Approach

Anytime you’re comparing two or more methods of production, it’s important to understand the main strengths of each approach. With injection molding, you can produce parts with extremely high accuracy and repeatability at a lower per-part cost than many other methods. You also gain the benefit of being able to use multiple types of plastic resins to make your parts if needed.

On the other side of the coin, 3D printing or additive manufacturing can be a great way to produce highly complex parts with internal structures that couldn’t otherwise be utilized. The resolution and fine detail are also far superior than injection molding in many cases, although surface finish is an area where plastic injection molding will undoubtedly triumph every single time.

Another key comparison area here is within the realm of waste and recycling – and is another where injection molding tends to come out ahead. Injection molding can produce very little waste and can easily be recycled, meaning the cost of production ultimately goes down even further. In fact, the use of modern processes like hot runner injection molding can eliminate virtually all waste.

Factors in Injection Molding Costs

These two approaches will also vary widely in terms of the factors that impact their likely costs. For injection molding, the key variables here tend to include:

  • Number of products required: One of the key benefits of injection molding is that it can produce very high volumes of parts in a single run, meaning production costs go down. The more you need to produce, the lower your cost per part will be.
  • The complexity of the product: As complexity increases so too will the injection tooling costs, as well as any prototype tools needed prior to running a full production.
  • Material: The material you choose, and the supplier of that material also has a big impact on overall costs. For instance, some manufacturers may offer discounts for larger orders, or certain materials may be more expensive due to their complexity.

Factors in 3D Printing Costs

On the other side of the coin, there are several factors that can also influence the costs of 3D printing your parts. Here’s a look at some of those key variables:

  • Type of 3D Printer: The type of 3D printer you choose will have a major influence on the costs. For instance, some machines may be cheaper to use than others, and certain materials may also require more expensive printers.
  • Quantity of Parts: As with injection molding, the quantity of parts required is a major factor in overall cost. With 3D printing, however, the cost of each additional part can be quite a bit higher.
  • Material: As with injection molding, the material you choose and its associated costs will play a major role in your overall 3D printing costs.
  • Overall Efficiency: Another key factor here is the efficiency of your production process – how quickly you’re able to move from one print to the next, and how quickly you’re able to get your parts ready for use.

Bulk Vs Small Orders

As you may have already realized while reading to this point, the differences in these two manufacturing methods often lead to a fairly simple reality: While 3D printing is often viable for small batches of parts, injection molding becomes more cost-effective for larger orders. As a result, most manufacturers will tend to choose one or the other depending on their specific needs.

This is because, in the vast majority of cases, the cost of 3D printing doesn’t really change no matter how many parts you’re making. On the other hand, injection molding costs decrease significantly with each additional part, particularly when larger orders are involved.

Now, there are many situations where businesses or entities may have use for both of these processes, and that’s perfectly reasonable. In fact, depending on the exact product you’re producing it may be a smart decision to utilize both 3D printing and injection molding in tandem for the best possible results.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your team to determine which approach is the right one for your product or project – but with the right information you’ll be able to make a more informed decision and come out ahead in the end. For those interested primarily in bulk products that can be easily repeated while lowering costs in the process, however, injection molding tends to be the preferred method.

For more here, or to learn about any of our custom injection molding services and the numerous industries we serve, speak to our team at EnviroTech Custom Injection Molders today.