How Can I Make My 3D Printed Parts to Have Injection Moulded-Like Quality?

Ever wondered why do injection moulded parts look so good? It all comes down to the tooling (moulds) and the process. The mould is what creates the shape of your part, and it’s most often made with steel or aluminium. The injected material fills up this mould cavity at a high temperature to form the desired shape.

However, bear in mind that the material used will ultimately determine how much time is needed for cooling before extraction from the moulds, which can add to its already long initial lead time. After extraction of the part is done, the finishing process will still require a human operator to check the quality of the individual part. This can be time-consuming and manual. Here’s what to consider when deciding if injection moulding is a good idea to use as part of your product manufacturing.

Pros and cons of injection moulding

For starters, injection moulding is a plastic-forming technique used to make many types of parts in industries such as automotive, electronics, and construction. This process has its benefits including its ability to produce high quality products with tight tolerances and it offers great flexibility when designing parts for mass production.

However, due to these advantages, it also has downsides such as long lead times and high initial cost. From a price standpoint, the tooling required contributes to the upfront costs with steel moulds usually more expensive to make as compared to aluminium moulds.

More often than not, injection moulding is also not suitable for small runs of parts. In order to use injection moulding, many manufacturers would find themselves needing to order a large quantity (1 million and above) to bring down the cost per part, which can be a huge commitment in the long run.

With that in mind, is there a more efficient way to still manufacture smooth parts quickly – even in low volumes? 3D printing, complemented with vapour smoothing, offers a cost-effective method to do so from your proof of concept to the final part.

Read more about the benefits of 3D printing and its various processes like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA).

How does vapour smoothing work?

As a new post-processing tool, vapour smoothing is a process that uses an industry-safe solvent to vapour smooth the 3D printed parts. 3D-printed parts that are mainly used for prototyping can now be transformed to be used for end use functional parts after the vapour smoothing process. This technique is used in order to get rid of visible layer lines and even out the surface of the part. The whole process takes less than 2 hours to complete, and comprises the following steps:

1. Processing cycle

In the BLAST (Boundary Layer Automated Smoothing Technology) process, the parts are first loaded into the process chamber. As the processing chamber heats up, a vacuum is pulled in. The vapour BlastX will be dosed into the chamber, condensing on the parts. The boundary layer of the part is then reflowed by the BlastX.

2. Curing cycle

Here, the processing chamber will return to atmospheric pressure and the BlastX is slowly removed from the part to allow the surface to solidify.

3. Drying cycle

The processing chamber will heat up again to the drying temperature. A vacuum is pulled on the processing chamber. At this stage, any trace amount of BlastX will be removed from the part and your 3D-printed parts will have an improved surface finish.

With Additive3D Asia as your trusted 3D printing company, each cycle also has predetermined parameters to ensure optimum processing conditions for consistent good results. This means that from one cycle to another, the temperature and pressure within the processing chamber will adjust accordingly.   

Benefits of vapour smoothing

Different from acetone vapour smoothing which is limited to only ABS material or 2K Clear coat spray which is made from a mixture of very high chemical, gasoline, and weathering resistance and mainly use for high-quality and longterm sealing of repair paint jobs and new paint jobs on cars and motorcycles, the vapour smoothing process from Additive3D Asia works best with more thermoplastics plastic technology from FDM, FFF and similar because it has high melting temperature and low viscosity, allowing it to flow more easily than other materials like ABS, PLA, ASA, PC-ABS including the high chemical resistance ULTEM material. You can take a look here for a full range of materials.

Vapour smoothing is also compatible with all powder-bed technologies from SLS, MJF, SAF, HSS and more. The process extensively decreases surface roughness by over 800% while sealing the part’s surface against liquid and air. Simultaneously, the treatment improves mechanical properties like Elongation-at-Break (EAB), yield stress and ultimate tensile strength (UTS).

After the Vapour Smoothing process, all parts are fully cured and dry and it is safe to use directly. The Vapour Smoothing by Additive3D Asia has passed the Health & Safety Regulation. Refer to the details here

Here’s an example of a model before and after undergoing the vapour smoothing process.

Get Smoother End-Use Parts

If you’re considering using some of the widest used additive manufacturing processes, vapour smoothing will be one of your post-processing options to achieve shiny, smooth parts. Additive3D Asia is proud to be the first to offer chemical vapour smoothing processes in Singapore and across Southeast Asia and is the authorised AM production partner for AMT. To learn about our wide range of industrial solutions in detail, get in touch with us for more information today.​​