Functional Injection Molds (and More) from 3D Printed Metal Paste

By Stephanie Hendrixson, Contributing Editor, Modern Machine Shop

Metal 3D printing has had years of success in the moldmaking sector, where new design possibilities for mold tools have supported better performance in the injection molding process. Two main processes, laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) and directed energy deposition (DED), have proven useful for integrating together what would otherwise be separate pieces of tooling; for producing more complex mold cores and cavities; and for the incorporation of conformal cooling channels that precisely mirror the tool’s geometry for more efficient cooling.

However, these 3D printing processes also have drawbacks when applied to moldmaking. While they are usually faster to obtain a tool machined from scratch, LPBF or DED is almost always more expensive than a conventional tool. And once printed, the tooling will still need some amount of machining to fully finish it. Metal 3D printed molds are justified not by the cost savings in producing them, but by what comes later: reduced injection molding cycle times, better part quality, perhaps reduced maintenance over the tool’s life. If these benefits are enough, the upfront investment in the…

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