A savvy Minnesota injection molder is moving into the 3D printing/moldmaking/fast part turnaround business, a venture that puts it squarely in the fast-moving world of the likes of Proto Labs.
Diversified Plastics, which operates 18 injection molding machines, bought a Stratasys Objet 260 Polyjet printer last fall and is now offering parts at a much lower cost and one-third the time of prototype houses. The printer is making plastic blocks for injection molding as a replacement for very costly tools made from P20 steel or prototype tools made from aluminum.
The parts run in the company’s standard injection molding machines and parts can be produced in five to 10 working days. The 3D printed cores and cavities can be used with plastics with injection temperatures up to 500ºF. Up to 100 parts can be made. It’s a marriage of 3D printing and injection molding that allows actual production materials to be used, not the expensive, sometimes funky materials used in many 3D printers. A hundred small parts can be inexpensively injection molded in an hour or so. It would take a 3D printer a few days to make 100 parts.
It’s like the business offered by the wildly successful Proto Labs, but Diversified Plastics uses plastic 3D tools, not metal tools. The difference is that tooling costs are much lower (Proto Labs uses aluminum for its tools) and turnaround times are much faster.
In my opinion, Diversified Plastics seems to have a ways to go to be a full-fledged player. For example, the range of materials is limited. Annette Lund, VP of business development, told me in a phone interview that materials with some flexibility work best because they can be easily removed from the plastic tool. Parts made with thermoplastic elastomers are a good fit. Polypropylene ejects well from the 3D printed cavities. Polyethylene is good. It’s still early days and Lund says the company is working on other materials.
Diversified Plastics is an interesting company. It was founded in 1977 by two entrepreneurs. The remaining partner sold the company to the employees through an ESOP in 2012 and the company’s sales have been growing 15 to 20 percent annually since. New Toshibas are being added to meet growing demand.
And Lund says the company is already making plans to buy another 3D printer.
Proto Labs announced last month that it is launching an additive manufacturing (3D printing) service.
As I wrote recently, this is a business big enough for a lot of players. It’s good to see the traditional injection molders starting to get into the game.