Applications

Stratasys 3D printing supports a wide range of applications from rapid prototyping and production parts to manufacturing tools. Click here to see how PolyJet and FDM technology are empowering your industry to develop game-changing solutions. 

Investment Casting

Overview

Investment casting is a process in which a master pattern, traditionally made of wax, is covered with ceramic slurry. The wax pattern base is usually created using injection molding. Investment casting usually provides higher accuracy and higher quality surface finish than other casting processes. 

Application Outline

Tooling costs for investment casting is usually a highly expensive process and lead time is two months on average. Because investment casting requires an injection mold, the total time from design to production can be extremely long due to adjustments in the design, ordering new parts, etc. FDM technology provides you with an alternative that can save you months of time and thousands of dollars. Patterns can be as complex as needed with little to no impact on cost. Parts created using FDM technology also have greater strength, toughness, and accuracy than their manufactured counterparts. Advancements in this technology have improved to the point that hand finishing is no longer necessary, which only adds to its appeal.

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Functional Prototypes

Functional prototyping allows you to create realistic prototypes that mimic what your next finished product will look and perform like. This helps you get to market quicker by providing the opportunity to correct errors and make improvements early in the development process. 

Functional prototyping can be used to create the best prototypes for many different functions, such as:

Injection Molding 

The most effective prototypes are as close to the final product as possible. For example, being made out of the same plastic that is going to be used in the final product. This is where 3D printing your injection molds comes in; 3D printing offers a fast, affordable way (no tooling costs!) to produce injection molded prototypes.

Living Hinges

Creating living hinges and snap-fit closures using 3D printing is quickly becoming a popular alternative to mechanical hinges and closures. With slight modifications to the hinge design, a 3D printed living hinge can withstand hundreds (or even thousands) of flex cycles. The minimal friction that comes with 3D printed hinges – along with the compact design and the ability to manufacture them in one piece – has made them a welcomed alternative to traditional mechanical hinges.

Soft Touch Parts

One of the things that will make your prototype stand apart is the use of soft touch parts. Soft touch parts on your 3D printed prototype allow you to really see what the final product will look and feel like. With a wide range of rigid and rubber-like materials, 3D printed prototypes can use soft touch parts in industries ranging from automotive to consumer electronics to consumer goods.

Wind Tunnel Testing

Wind-tunnel testing is an imperative part of product design in many industries, such as automotive, providing insight into the effects of air around a test model. These test models have traditionally been made out of metal, plastics, and composites. 3D printing is gaining acceptance as an alternative material to make the molds out of due to it aiding in reduced costs and lead times.

Dynamic Friction Coefficient

3D printed parts can use photopolymers to realistically simulate the performance of end products when precise dynamic friction coefficients are inputted. A prototype that actually takes friction into consideration can result in a final product with an improved grip, reduced part wear, and the potential for improved movement and sliding functionalities.

Simulating Overmolding

Overmolding is a process where two different materials are combined to produce one part, which can now be done using 3D printing technology. There are many challenges that occur when designing overmolded products – cost and lead time being two huge factors. With 3D printing, these are virtually eliminated compared to creating a prototype injection mold or an RTV mold.

Surrogate Parts

Sometimes, there is a component of the final product that does not need to be fully functional in the prototype. However, if the product has complex, intricate parts, ordering these placement prototype parts can be expensive and take a long time to receive, especially if any design 

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Production Parts

Stratasys FDM 3D Printers build the most durable, stable and repeatable parts for manufacturers in all idustries. With accuracy that rivals injection molding and an array of real thermoplastic materials, Stratasys helps manufacturers say yes to more opportunities in low-volume, customized production parts and factory automation.

Designers and manufacturing engineers are free to optimize parts with organic shapes and complex geometries, including hollow interiors and negative draft. Traditional tooling constraints don’t apply in the world of 3D printing. Now you make the rules.

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RTV Molding

Overview

Room temperature vulcanizing (RTV) molding – also known as silicone molding – is used to create prototypes for functional testing and short-run production. This is an ideal method for low-volume production, as it has much lower lead times and costs than machining or injection molding. Silicone molds are made by pouring silicone rubber over a pattern, which results in a slightly flexible, durable mold with complex geometry.

Value of Using FDM or PolyJet

Patterns are commonly created using wood, plastic, or metal. These materials can have long lead times, be expensive, or require skilled labor. With 3D technology, you can make your patterns as complex as needed without sacrificing time, money, or labor.

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Molded Fiber

Overview

Molded paper pulp (also called molded fiber) has been used for decades to create containers and trays. Despite a decline in demand in the 1970s, the use of molded pulp packaging is gaining momentum again in our world due to the rising demand for environmental friendliness and sustainability. This material can be produced from old newspapers, corrugated boxes, plant fibers, etc.

Application Outline

There are two common types of molded fiber: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is often used for support packaging applications that require thicker walls, and has a rougher, more unfinished feel to it. Type 2 is usually used for packaging electronic equipment, cellular phones, and household products with smaller container walls. Type 2 has a smoother finish than Type 1.

The process that is required to produce pulp packaging tools costs thousands of dollars and takes about two weeks. FDM technology provides an alternative to this costly process. FDM molded pulp tooling can be created in a fraction of the time and cost, while also having the option of producing tools that are porous and rigid.

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Modular Fixtures

Overview

Creating a modular fixture system can be a versatile alternative to producing a single-purpose fixture, and can be easily dismantled and stored for later use. Modular fixture systems are commonly used to: 

  • Stage parts for CMM inspections
  • Hold work pieces during machining
  • Position parts when bonding or assembling

The majority of the modular fixture is constructed from standard parts; however, the interface is custom made using FDM technology. These can be manually designed in CAD or using the RapidFit software, which automates the digital design process for you.

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Liquid Silicone Rubber Molding

Overview of the Application

Liquid silicone rubber (LSR) is a non-reactive, stable material that can be used for many applications. It is widely used in many industries, such as automotive, defense, sporting goods, and medical devices. Mass production of LSR parts requires machines that are expensive and take a long time to operate. Because of this, low-volume production of molds is often done manually with modeling board, RTV rubber, or soft metal. Although this is a cost-effective alternative, these molds often stick to itself/other material or deform easily.

Value of Using PolyJet

PolyJet technology offers a money- and time-saving alternative using 3D printing. This process builds objects layer by layer, using data from computer-aided design (CAD) programs. Using 3D technology, LSR parts can be produced in a matter of days. If the mold needs to be changed, simply change the data on your CAD program and reprint your mold in one to two days!

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Hydroforming

Overview

Hydroforming and rubber pad pressing are process used to form sheet metal into the shape of a mold or die. These methods are primarily used for low-volume production, but can also be used in prototype and development work, repair parts, and one-off custom parts. Many industries use these methods, such as the aerospace industry, the automotive industry, and the military.

Application Outline

The dies and form tools created for these hydroforming and rubber pad pressing processes are traditionally produced using a mixture of materials and methods. There are many challenges with this, however, including: shortages of skilled labor, long lead times, high cost of raw materials, and high cost and lead times due to outsourcing. FDM tools can help eliminate these problems and allow you produce these dies and form tools in as little as 24 hours. FDM reduces the cost for die production and lead time by over 50% each. There is almost no limit to the complexity of the tools you can create, which means that 3D printing your hydroforming and rubber pad pressing tools offers you the ability to create more complex and organic parts with less cost and lead time.

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End of Arm Tooling

Overview of the Application

Robotic arms are used in many industries to perform tasks such as sorting, transporting, palletizing, inspecting, and machining, all while being expected to maintain a high level of endurance, speed, and precision. The end of arm tool (EOAT) is determined by the kind of the work the robot will be doing. Although there are standard EOATs that you can purchase, many end-users often need customized EOATs that are uniquely shaped to their product. The time, cost, and effort required to machine these customized parts is often too high, which is why many people settle for the stock EOATs.

Value of Using FDM

Using FDM technology and materials, EOATs can be customized to optimize performance while also proving dramatic time and cost savings. Another benefit to using 3D printing technology is that EOAT parts produced using this method are lighter than their metal counterparts; this allows the robots to move faster and carry larger payloads. The weight reduction provided by FDM technology also improves robot motor efficiency and reduces component wear over time. FDM EAOTs can be as simple or complex as needed, while also having the added benefit of being created from a material that will not scratch the end product. The ability to rapidly revise these parts keeps your manufacturing line running at peak performance. 

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Composite Tooling

Composite Mold Tooling

Traditional composite mold tooling requires extensive labor and machining, which leads to high costs, lots of waste, and lead times that can range from weeks to months. These lengthy lead times can hinder design development and push back schedules. By 3D printing your composite molds, you can reduce cost and lead times, reduce labor and waste, respond quickly to demand fluctuations, produce functional prototype designs, and transform shop operations.

Sacrificial Tooling

Tools created with 3D printing greatly simplify the production of complex and hollow parts. These tools can be dissolved after curing, which eliminates mold making process and speeds up the development process. There are many benefits to using FDM technology to 3D print your tools, including creating finished tools in a matter of days, building dimensionally stable tools, designing and producing complex parts, and improved control of critical surfaces.

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Finishing Processes

For product design and development, prototyping on a 3D printer has become standard practice. Get the most out of your parts through finishing.

Stratasys PolyJet 3D printed models have a smooth surface and fine feature details straight off the printer, and accept off-the-shelf acrylic paints and lacquers.

(FDM) parts in engineering-grade thermoplastics allow you to sand, drill, glue and paint just as you would any plastic part. Bond 3D printed parts together to grow beyond the build envelope.

Finishing techniques include:

  • Bead blasting 
  • Bonding and gluing 
  • Electroplating 
  • Mass finishing 
  • Painting 
  • PPSF finishing 
  • Sealing FDM parts 
  • Smoothing FDM parts   
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Concept Models

Concept modeling allows design and engineering firms of all sizes to extend their customer reach by being able to test out more ideas and only producing the best possible products. 3D printed concept models are an easy way to communicate ideas to colleagues, clients, and marketers.

Concept modeling can be beneficial in many different ways, including:

Architectural Models 

Computer simulations have been utilized in the architecture industry for years. However, scale models were created out of wood or foam, where the details were oftentimes lost. 3D printing architectural concept models of buildings allows the architects to see how the detailed building would behave in a physical space and potentially catch any problems. 

Marketing and Graphic Design

3D printed concept models can be especially beneficial in the marketing industry. 3D printing provides the ability to create models of products pre-launch that marketers can use during focus groups. Customers would be able to actually see, hold, and examine the product, which could help provide better insights in product design.

Ergonomic Design

One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing a product is to create proper ergonomic design. This helps prevent injury and enhance productivity when using the product. 3D printed concept models allow for abundant testing of ergonomic performance before the product goes into production.

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Jigs & Fixtures

Overview

Despite being overlooked and nearly invisible in a well-run production facility, properly designed jigs and fixtures are highly important in the manufacturing world. These jigs and fixtures are often customized and are relied upon for quality, safety, and efficiency. To avoid any halts in production or product defects, new jigs and fixtures must be regularly designed and manufactured. 

Value of FDM or PolyJet

Traditionally, these were created by machining metal, wood, or plastic – this leads to machines being used to create prototypes instead of production work and much longer lead times. 3D printing streamlines the process and allows for rapid production of highly customized jigs and fixtures that result in greater productivity and all-around better ergonomics.

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Thermoforming

Overview

Thermoforming is a relatively simple process that heat and form sheets of extruded plastic. A plastic sheet is heated to a pliable state and then formed into the desired shape using different methods, such as vacuum forming and pressure forming. This process is mostly used in the packaging industry, used to package anything from small consumer goods to hot tubs and refrigerators. 

Preparing tools for vacuum forming can be costly and time-consuming. If the tooling needs to be outsourced, that slows the time to market even further and potentially increases design expenses. Thermoforming doesn’t require extreme heat or pressure, so 3D printing can also be an effective alternative. Although not as durable as aluminum, 3D printed tool life can range from 100 to 1,000 parts. PolyJet and FDM technology also offer the option to design vent holes, which the labor and inaccuracy of manual drilling. 

PolyJet or FDM Patterns Are Best for Thermoforming When:

  • Smooth parts are required
  • Challenging characteristics include deep draws or organic shapes
  • Multiple designs are required
  • Lead time is short

Benefits of PolyJet and FDM Patterns:

  • Built-in vent holes to eliminate drilling
  • Speed and reduced cost
  • Smooth parts with little or no finishing
  • Stability, eliminating heat distortions of the tool
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Sand Casting

Overview

The sand casting process uses a mold that is created by pressing a pattern into a sand mixture, leaving a cavity into which molten metal is then poured. This process works well with low-volume production – using 3D technology, however, it can even be efficient for high-volume production. Fabricating the patterns for this process is often complex, time-consuming, and expensive. The most common method is to create aluminum patterns, which often leads to incorrect shrink compensation and design flaws that only add more time and money to the process. 

Three common types of sand casting patterns are:

  • Loose Patterns – patterns are not connected to anything and simply replicate the cast piece
  • Cope and Drag Patterns (Split Patterns) – like loose patterns but with a gating system added and a split along the parting line
  • Matchplates – similar to Cope and Drag patterns except the Cope and Drag sides are combined into a single piece

PolyJet or FDM Patterns Are Best for Sand Casting When:

  • Molds are intended for prototype or production use
  • Casting designs need verification
  • Gate and runner refinements are likely
  • Castings will be complex or large

Benefits of PolyJet and FDM Patterns:

  • Pattern cost reduction of 50% to 70%
  • Lead time reduction of 30% to 70%
  • Faster design revisions
  • Interchangeable gate and runner system
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Blow Molding

Overview

Blow molding is a process that is used to create hollow plastic parts, such as bottles. Although manufacturing these items in bulk is relatively cost-efficient and quick, prototyping for these types of products tends to be expensive and have a long lead time. Due to this, many companies have forgone the prototyping for these types of products entirely. 3D printing has made the prototyping process for blow-molded products much easier (and cheaper). It includes improved surface quality, durability, and build speed while allowing you to catch any mistakes before sending the product to production.

Use PolyJet or FDM Technology for Blow Molding When:

  • Production levels are low to moderate or custom
  • Multiple designs must be considered
  • Prototypes are required from the final plastic material
  • Design changes are likely

Benefits of PolyJet or FDM Tools:

  • Lead time reduced by 30% to 70%
  • Prototype mold cost reduced by 40% to 80%
  • Stability, eliminating distortion with heat
  • Durability through hundreds of cycles
  • Little or no need for post processing

Considerations

When using this technology, be sure to build proper clearances and to orient the tool in the build chamber to give it the best surface finish. If necessary, use filler to get the desired surface texture. The filler will also help to seal the mold and, ultimately, produce a better part.

Also, the material used to produce the prototype mold should be heat-resistant so that it doesn’t warp after each cycle and is durable enough to last through many cycles.

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PolyJet Injection Molding

Do you want to produce a prototype from the same plastic as the final production part, but find it difficult to justify the cost of tooling? 3D printing your molds in-house with PolyJet technology offers a fast, affordable way for R&D teams to produce injection molded prototypes. 

PolyJet technology creates smooth, detailed, accurate molds. Digital ABS 3D printing material is strong enough to hold up to short injection molding runs of about 10 to 100 parts, depending on the amount of detail. You can install the 3D printed mold directly onto your injection molding machine. If testing reveals that you need to make a design improvement, you can alter the mold in directly in SOLIDWORKS and 3D print the next iteration. 

We emphasize that PolyJet molds are not production tools. However, during the design and testing phase, they offer a clear advantage over conventional injection molding. Product designers and manufacturers can use these molds to perform thorough functional testing without worrying about expensive tooling. Design flaws can be discovered early, when they are easiest to fix. This can reduce costly, time-consuming mold corrections, increase product innovation and speed product development.

When to Use PolyJet Tooling

  • Complex injection molded plastic prototype component
  • PolyJet 3D Printing is a good method for creating prototype injection molds when:
  • Complex geometry would make traditional tooling difficult
  • Low quantities are needed
  • Design changes are likely
  • Rapid prototyping from the final production plastic is important
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