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How We Are Accelerating Time-to-Market using 3D Printed Mould Tools

As Product Designers, we use 3D printing nearly every day to check fits, validate geometry and to experiment with mechanisms. The gap between 3D printing being a prototyping tool and a fully-fledged production method is closing. Regardless of these advancements there is always going to be a place for ‘traditional’ production methods such as injection moulding. The constraints involved with injection moulding are evident to anyone who has attempted to bring a product to market. Mould tools can cost in the thousands and take weeks if not months to be put into operation.

Here at ITERATE, we are always looking for ways to reduce the barrier to market entry for our clients; specifically small businesses who may not be in a position to invest in traditional prototype tooling. That’s why we have recently expanded our manufacturing capabilities by purchasing a micro moulding machine, which is able to produce small scale parts that need to be produced from production grade polymer – allowing accurate and reliable testing to be carried out.

Since operating the micro moulding machine in-house, we have produced both aluminium mould tools and 3D printed mould tools, and have found the cost and time comparisons staggering. For example, when procuring a prototype aluminium mould from the Far East is cost around £600 and took 15 working days to arrive. When building a 3D printed mould, it took us 1-2 days to create and finish; costing the client just £300.

However, even though the differences are clear, they each have their own benefits. For example, an aluminium mould would be more durable and would have an extended life cycle but if any changes or adjustments were needed it would require the mould being sent for adjustment further increasing both the lead-time and the cost. Whereas a 3D printed mould is easier to manipulate and adjust; allowing a whole new set of moulds to be built overnight, mitigating some of the risk associated with prototype tooling and costs.

Case Study: ITERATE Keyring

To put the method to the test we created the ITERATE keyring, a small part that could show the capability of the new facilities. Overnight we were able to go from CAD to a physical mould ready for production. To further reduce cost and material usage, we designed the mould to have optimal strength while reducing the material used by over 50%.

We decided to mould the keyring from Polypropylene to allow it to flex when put into pockets and bags, to increase its lifetime and resistance to wear. We can also mould in materials such as Acetyl and Nylon, which have their own set of advantages.

With any early prototype we had teething problems with a lot of flashing and air pockets, which we were able to overcome in an hour by creating reliefs in the mould to direct the plastic and air into voids within the mould increasing part quality. The end result, sitting on my keyring ready for action! To find out how ITERATE could help with your prototype needs, please call us today on 01291 442181 or email gethin@iterate-uk.com