Injection moulding works by creating a mould into which a molten material is injected then allowed to cool. With the material taking the form of the cavity inside, the mould can be used repeatedly to create identical parts and components. Injection moulding has advanced considerably in recent years and is now the go-to choice for creating plastic, metal and more modern composite components.
For companies looking for rapid prototyping of a new product, injection moulding is an increasingly attractive prospect compared to other forms of manufacturing, such as 3D printing. Due to layering, 3D printing results in a imperfect finish, but this unevenness is eliminated with injection moulding which results in a completely smooth finish right from the outset.
A popular area of growth for injection moulding is the automotive industry. Vehicle body parts can be moulded using plastics, elastomers and metals - eradicating the need to paint the metal parts further down the line. It is a process that is cheaper and more efficient, yet with car makers seeking additional ways to make cars cheaper, and also lighter, they are increasingly looking to plastics and other high-performance polymers to satisfy these requirements. Moreover, some governments now mandate that new vehicles should be made with plastic components instead of iron or steel.
The medical industry is also set to become a bigger player in plastic injection moulding. Plastics have transformed the industry as medical tools, parts and components are often more reliable, lighter in weight and lower in cost when moulded using plastic. Consequently, markets in a number of key countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia are expected to help fuel an annual 5 percent increase in plastic injection moulding within the global medical industry.
Increasing demand for electrical items such as mobile phones and laptops is also contributing to the growing use of plastic injection moulding. With the UK, Germany and France as key markets for personal electronic items, manufacturers are turning to plastic injection moulding in order to mass produce smaller, lighter, cheaper and more reliable devices.
A 2016 study by Grand View Research revealed that the moulded plastics market was valued at roughly $284 billion, but it has increased since this time due to a number of industries including those discussed here. Breaking it down geographically, developed economies such as the USA and Europe, as well as emerging economies such as China, India, Russia and South Africa, are all fuelling the increase in demand for plastic injection moulding. This is part of a broader picture that shows a general increase in manufacturing across the globe. Forecasters predict that the increasing interest in injection moulding will result in $500 billion in revenue by the year 2025, indicating a 100% increase in the market value. The packaging sector currently drives the greatest demand for injection moulding, being responsible for around 31% of the market share.
Due to environmental concerns, criticism of plastic production and disposal is widespread, but injection moulded plastics offer a viable way to recycle and reuse the material. This greener alternative can help reduce the flow of plastics into the oceans and, with the cost of polymers rising, recycled plastics also offer the benefit of reduced production costs.
Injection moulding is shaping the future of many strands of manufacturing. With the evolving needs of markets, and as the materials used become more sophisticated, the door to more inventive uses for this unique manufacturing process will certainly open.
About Proto Labs
Over the next decade, we would continue to expand our injection moulding envelope, introduce quick-turn CNC machining and open global facilities in Europe and Japan. In 2014, we launched industrial-grade 3D printing services to allow product developers, designers and engineers an easier path to move from early prototyping to low-volume production.
Today, Protolabs is the world’s fastest manufacturer of custom prototypes and on-demand production parts with manufacturing facilities in eight countries.