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Extending 3D printing beyond prototyping to injection moulding

04 November 2017

Promolding, a Dutch specialist in global design, engineering and manufacturing of high-tech plastic parts and components, increases its prototyping flexibility and slashes injection mould lead times by 93 percent with Stratasys 3D printing.

Stratasys’ Objet500 Connex colour, multi-material 3D Printer is used throughout the product development process significantly reducing lead times during prototyping and injection moulding

When engineers talk about ‘thinking outside the box’, it usually requires a creative approach, technical skill, entrepreneurial planning and a deep understanding of the project. When it comes to applying this methodology to effectively meet customer requirements, Promolding is the perfect example. Founded in 1997 and based in The Hague, Netherlands, the company specialises in creating high-tech plastic parts and components using high-performance polymer-based solutions for a range of market-leading clients, including Airbus and Heineken.

Providing services to a wide array of industries, among them medical, aerospace and high tech systems, Promolding faces a growing demand from customers to develop more complex products and solutions faster than ever before. 

Optimising the design process

After several years of outsourcing 3D printed prototypes, the company quickly became accustomed to the benefits of additive manufacturing for the development of very complex products.

To ensure these deadlines are met without compromising quality, the company turned to Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing technology to expedite its prototyping and injection moulding processes. As such, the company purchased an Objet Connex 3D Printer from Stratasys partner, Layertec, for a number of in-house prototyping applications. 

“We became increasingly aware of the need for a 3D printer that would help us optimise our product development process,” says Jeroen Gross, Manager Product Development, Promolding. “We looked at several different options, but fell in love with Stratasys’ Objet Connex 3D Printer and its ability to not only improve our prototyping, but also become a key driver for our injection moulding business.”

Shorter-lead times and greater flexibility with in-house 3D printing

The move brought with it key benefits for the company, as Gross explains: “Particularly with bigger and more complex product developments, it is beneficial to be as quick and efficient as possible in the early development stages, which is achievable with having an in-house 3D printer. This not only means reduced lead times, but delivers the flexibility to develop review and adapt prototypes earlier. We save approximately two days across a typical prototyping phase during product development by having our Connex3D Printer in-house.”

Such efficiencies are underscored in a recent project which saw the company design and test a new product called Tigerfix, a glue solution for mounting bathroom accessories to walls without screws. Faced with the task of developing a wall-mount that could easily be installed and removed without leaving any marks, Promolding utilised its Connex 3D Printer to develop prototypes of the wall mount’s metal plate component. 

The company developed a glue cartridge to fit inside the metal plate, enabling the flow of glue to the individual parts of the wall mount - critical to ensuring functionality. According to Gross, the ability to 3D print several prototypes early in the development process allowed the team to quickly iterate the design, perform functional testing and identify a solution. 

Fugro fibre optic sensor housings in PBT material produced via 3D printed injection molds on the Stratasys Objet500 Connex 3D Printer

“The ability to print at such a high resolution enables us to produce superior quality prototypes that closely match the final manufactured product,” explains Gross “This has been critical to optimising our design process and overcoming the complexities of polymer product development.”

New business opportunity delivers lead-time savings of 93 percent

After successfully integrating its 3D printer into the business, Promolding quickly realised the potential of 3D printing to disrupt manufacturing, so the company decided to expand its operations to 3D printing injection moulds. This ‘outside the box’ thinking provided the opportunity for the company to offer its clients a new service: the rapid development of injection moulds for final product validation or further concept development. 

The venture resulted in staggering lead-time savings of 93 percent, as Jeroen Gross explains: “Traditionally, injection mould development takes a lengthy six weeks at least to develop, but by designing and 3D printing the moulds in-house, we can produce complex versions in just three days.”

Promolding was recently tasked with developing a fibre optic sensor housing for Fugro, a world leader in integrated geotechnical, survey, subsea and geoscience services. Dealing with very complex, sensitive technology, Promolding designed and 3D printed moulds for the sensor housing in a matter of days. Using one 3D printed mould, the team were able to produce over 50 samples of the sensor housing in a number of final product materials including PP, TPE and PBT. 

Moulding the future

Having discovered the advantages integrating 3D printing within the injection moulding process, Promolding is already looking to expand its Printed Injection Moulding (PRIM) operations.

“PRIM will be available to our customers as an additional service in parallel to prototyping and traditional injection moulding,” says Gross. “In the future, PRIM will be seen as a commonplace process of its own. We have come a long way, but we are excited to continue exploring the many additional possibilities 3D printing opens up within manufacturing.”

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