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3D printing is still a largely un-tapped resource and with companies often jumping to the conclusion that injection moulding is the only option, organisations are missing a huge opportunity.
“3D printing is for one-off prints or prototyping”….. well, maybe, but have you seriously considered the form vs function of the parts you need?  Do they really need to be perfect to the eye or would a more balanced view of form vs function (and cost!) equally suit its purpose?  Don’t get me wrong, 3d printers these days aren’t throwing out ugly looking blobs of plastic when printed correctly and I’m more and more blown away by the quality of even the budget end FDM printers on the market, but my point is, do you really need to make such a huge financial commitment to have your parts injection moulded?
I recently developed a camera bracket for a commercial vehicle telematics company.  The brief was simple, it needs to be strong, adjustable and small…..perfect!  The mass produced injection moulded brackets they’d been using were hit and miss, and not really tailored for the varying applications the company needed them for.  They were also too large for the job.  A few hours later and with some prototype prints in my hand, I sent a custom bracket to the client complete with their company logo embossed into the print and a quote per part.  A few refinements later and on-demand, the company receives 100 brackets within 48 hours….no stock commitment, no up-front investment other than the 3d modelling and ultimately no writing off of old stock when the new model camera comes out.
My point here is the part in question needed to work, look acceptable for the application it was to be used in, and not require the kind of investment that can cripple a small business without the funds to invest or hold large volumes of stock.  Although the part works out slightly more expensive than the injection moulded equivalent, these were universal un-branded parts not designed specifically for their application and requiring significant stock holding.
We’re actually talking about hyper-personalised manufacturing.  We are taking a specific requirement and making it viable to have that part manufactured on-demand, from one part to one thousand or more parts.  Whether it is personalisation of a product for marketing purposes, flexibility of design and investment for fledgling startups, or satisfying the growing demand for a product which hasn’t quite reached the volumes required for financial viability of injection moulding, 3d printing is increasingly seen as a viable solution.  Lets not forget too, that 3d print technologies are often enabling the use of designs and materials not possible via traditional manufacturing methods.
The message is simple, the balance of personalisation, on-demand manufacturing and low initial investment when compared to the ‘finish’ of the final product, may surprise you.  3d printing is increasingly used for production run part manufacture and not just prototyping.

A regular customer recently asked if I could re-work a design to make it more cost effective for 3d printing at scale and I was more than happy to oblige!  The part in question was a universal bracket for mounting security and in-vehicle cameras.  As ever, it was a design that didn’t really warrant the investment needed for injection moulding given the regular introduction of new cameras to the market and 3d printing is the perfect gap-fill.  I’ve printed hundreds (…in fact thousands) of them over the past few months, and all are now at work in commercial vehicles across the country, however it was time for an update.
Smaller, Faster to print and more economical to print…… simple!
Designing with 3d printing in mind up-front can make a significant difference to the speed and subsequent cost of a 3d print.  Avoiding the need for support material, sizing and orientating for the greatest number of parts on a print run, all have a huge impact on print time.  With a target of a 50% cost reduction, even with the addition of a bolt and nyloc nut to improve strength and adjustment options, the new part was a hit.