On the pages of Make:, we have often discussed the advantages of 3D printing over more traditional manufacturing techniques like injection molding. 3D printing allows for faster prototypes of unique items, but it really begins to suffer as the quantity of parts you wish to produce increases. Mass production is where injection molding really shines.
Allforge has merged the two techniques in a very interesting way. The mold chamber on their unit accepts both, traditional milled metal molds, as well as 3D printed molds. This allows you to 3D print molds to either test your design or run relatively short batches for a molding machine. Where an aluminum mold may be able to produce 10,000 batches before it begins to degrade, a 3d printed mold may only produce 100 batches. This is still enough, they suggest, to make the cost of production much more efficient.
I talked to Shane Allan, Co Founder and CEO of Allforge at Maker Faire Austin and got more details about the machine. What I found very nice was that it had built in systems for each of the various materials that you would typically use:
- low temperature foods (chocolate typically)
- mid temperature plastics (ABS, PLA, etc)
- High temperature metals (such as Aluminum)
Of course you need to be intelligent about what material you inject into another. For example, you obviously wouldn’t want to inject aluminum into a 3D printed mold made of PLA. It would simply melt and be useless.
The Allforge is currently crowdfunding, hoping to bring their unit to market in time for the holiday season 2016 for between $2500 and $4000 depending on options.
The Allforge was just one of the many cool things I saw at Maker Faire Austin. I can’t wait to find out what they’ll have next year!