Nov.29, 2011 

EuroMold begins today, November 29 ~ December 2, 2011, in Frankfurt. It is for 18th time that EuroMold exhibition is taken place. It has become an important annual event where the entire process chain is represented. This show manages to bridge not only the gap between industrial designers and product developers, but also between producers, suppliers and end users.

The exhibition was dominant for years by die and mold makers. Only recent years 3D printing is getting so hot and the emphasis has been increasingly shifted to rapid prototyping.

Is the advances of 3D printing going to make an end of traditional molding industry? Will all the mold makers disappear? Or on the contrary, is it an opportunity for mold makers?

3D printing technology stands in an very earlier stage in the technology development. It is like computers in 1980, people look at it, try it with much curiosity. We can all image how bright the future will be with 3D printing, however at the moment the technology is still under development that practically it can not replace traditional industry including die and molding industry. 

Along with technology development, there are still some issues 3D printing technology can not be fully implemented in the industries to replace mold industry. 

Cost for massive productions
To mass produce with your own 3D printer is a very distant illusion right now. It is definitely too expensive to product by 3D printer than 10 cents a piece in a factory in far east.

A lot of designers or companies make their prototypes now with the 3D Printer. But final production is with a mold as it gives higher quality and less lead time, with less cost. Besides that there are much more mold makers existing there than 3D printing service companies.

Resolution issue

The biggest issue of 3D printing is resolution. A nice square object is easily to be made, but curved surfaces will always have a grainy look. So for getting smooth surfaces you need to have a proper mold and the right machinery. interviewed Antonius Köster, who owns a small-sized CNC milling factory in Germany. "It's an opportunity." Köster said.

Köster started making his own mold in 1994. Now he has five employees and a team of six freelancers. He has fully followed the rapid manufacturing technology but he points out that there is still no machine can actually make the final projects. "We still need to finish the project with CNC machines." He thinks the 3D printing technology stands at the same point where CNC milling machines in fifteen years ago. "I like the result, but there is still much to do."

Köster doesn't think the 3D printing technology shall be a threat to the mold industry. On the contrary he takes it as an opportunity that they can make tools more intelligently by adding additional function to their mold. Laser beam and electron beam can make a lot of products, even in metal, Koster thinks it can be applied in insert molding. For an injection mold for a critical parts a mold in metal can be cooled or heated much quicker than plastics.

Data storage and data management

Köster is a CADCAM specialist. His concern and biggest challenge for the future is managing all the data. "In 1994 we had enough storage capacity for up to 1GB. Now we have 22 TB data stored, that is 22,000 GB." Especially with the market growth from 3D scanners and 3D printers, this data storage and management is becoming an issue for the future.

"I do not expect 3D printers such as Markerbot going to change anything for us. " Said Köster.

But well in the future, how long will it takes? Take a look at how computer is developed. The question is, how can we use 3D printing technology as an accelerator for the whole process chain?


Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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