"By using a 3D 'Print Farm' comprised of cells of affordable 3D printers, we've out-competed injection molding for sub-1000 unit plastic parts production as regards complexity, speed and cost," says Espen Sivertsen, the CEO of Type A Machines. "It's the dawn of a new, customized, volumetric manufacturing age, and we at Type A Machines are privileged and excited to lead the way."

A comparative study among low volume injection molding services, external service bureaus which use multiple machine additive manufacturing systems, industrial additive manufacturing systems purchased for internal use, and low cost (sub $5,000) multiple machine additive manufacturing systems says that – given the proper part run – additive manufacturing clusters can compete with injection molding.

Sivertsen says that this new wave of multiple machine additive manufacturing systems can now "change the game due to substantially lower capital investment costs." He adds that the key to the challenge is productivity rates 10-20 times greater than those of existing industrial systems for similar capital expenditures.

The white paper in question analyzes the per-part costs of both methods and assumes the purchase of in house 3D printing systems. While low cost service bureau pricing is included for comparison, Type A Machines says the overall analysis considers that an in-house production capability is assumed.

When all is considered, the study cites in-house additive manufacturing as a key feature in direct control of lead times, the restructuring of risk within business planning and removing tooling costs as critical factors in the overall equation.

According to Sivertsen, high volume production of identical parts, while it remains more cost effective for part volumes of over 10,000, suffers at lower volumes as injection molding costs dramatically increase when changes are required or when dealing with highly complex parts.

"The labor savings that can be realized with reliable, network managed machines like the Series 1 mean it's possible for additive manufacturing to be cost competitive out to 10,000 units," he says. "This is the kind of volume production that most people would have thought impossible."

With material costs typically four times greater for industrial-grade systems, an investment of $60,000 means a cell of 20 printers can be purchased as opposed to a single, industrial-grade system. Type A Machines says that a number of small manufacturers are already switching to low-volume production using multiple machine additive systems, and that means those companies can reap benefits like being able to ship a product as early as possible and then iterating during production to make their product even more competitive.

If you'd like to read the full study, you can check it out here at Type A Machines.