Micro molding tight-toleranced and high-precision parts comes with fascinating challenges, specifically in prototyping. If a company isn’t careful this phase can negatively impact the timeline, communication, and even put your intellectual property (IP) at risk. New advancements in 3D Printing for micro molding however improves the DfMM prototyping process.
3D printing for micro molding: is it possible?
Engineers love the idea of 3D printing in micro molding, but is it possible? Yes and no. 3D printing for production still isn’t ready for the main stage, but recent advancements in 3D printing resolution do make it valuable for one critical part of the micro molding process: Prototyping.
Prototyping is the best use for 3D printing in micro molding, but not all 3D printers are created equal. For Accumold, the in-house 3D printing process is capable of hitting the tolerances and detail we’re known for. Integrating this into the DfMM process gives engineers a huge advantage.
Cut time for micro mold prototyping
3D printing for micro molding speeds up the prototyping process by allowing quick iteration in-house. In a recent case, this advantage was apparent as a customer was able to rapidly test more than a dozen product variations, some in a cadaver study, for a new medical device
The intention of the device is to be minimally invasive, and therefore it was necessary to test many variations. Typically this is a challenge, as you wait for weeks to get the prototype before iteration, but micro 3D printing allowed micro mold and OEM teams to collaborate and build to-scale prototypes in record time.
Enhanced communication and timeline
The other prototyping advantage when 3D printing for micro molding is communication. Micro mold engineers were able to speak with the customer, and simply walk down the hall to go over new plans. This resulted in a new part by the next day.
Using a prototyping company result in three separate entities trying to coordinate, instead of just the micro molder and customer. For any engineering team who has attempted to collaborate on projects via Zoom or the phone, this hands-on approach reduces miscommunication and enhances collaboration.
In-house 3D printing for micro molding protects IP
An even bigger concern in prototyping is a potential loss of intellectual property (IP). In the case of the medical device referenced above, the OEM had developed several innovative designs on their path to solving a particular design challenge. Because these designs would likely be used in future devices, that introduces a prototyping challenge. Should they try all the designs, risking their IP, or only prototype a few?
OEMs know the more parties involved, the harder it is to protect their IP. This problem is magnified if a prototyping partner is located in a country with dissimilar IP laws. This is why keeping prototyping in-house is a great solution. It introduces fewer parties, the laws are the same, and the same NDA applies to the entire process. When 3D printing for micro molding is kept in-house with the same team that creates the production part, an OEM can create freely, knowing their IP and ideas are locked tight.
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Alex Anderson is a sales engineer at Accumold covering the Southeast USA. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University in Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering. Connect with him on LinkedIn.