3D Printing for Production Takes Hold at Forecast 3D

The company is seeing real benefits and potential in HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology for manufacturing plastic parts in high volumes.

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To produce tens of millions of plastic parts, injection molding is still the process that makes sense. But what about batch sizes in the tens to hundreds of thousands? Up until recently, injection molding would have been the answer—but for Forecast 3D, that’s changing.

Founded in 1994 in Carlsbad, Calif., Forecast 3D is a service bureau providing a full range of 3D printing, machining and tooling solutions for prototyping and batch production runs. The company has experience with a range of 3D printing technologies including polymer selective laser sintering (SLS) and stereolithography (SLA) as well as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). Forecast 3D is also a power user of Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), a polymer 3D printing technology from HP. It is MJF that is enabling the service bureau to save time and money in manufacturing polymer parts in volumes potentially ranging to the low millions.

Multi Jet Fusion uses a binder jetting-like process to 3D-print polymer parts by depositing binding and detailing agents onto plastic powder. Each layer is fused all at once using infrared light to melt the areas held by the binding agent. According to HP, each layer takes the same amount of time to fuse regardless of its complexity. This layer-by-layer (rather than point-by-point) approach enables the process to be faster than laser-based 3D printing systems. The speed of the system and quality of the resulting parts enables Forecast 3D to compete with injection molded parts, and help customers get their products to market faster. 

Forecast 3D currently has 12 MJF 3D printers in its 3D Manufacturing Center, with plans to add more soon. Those printers are supported by five post-processing stations for cleaning the parts and recycling powder and 28 build units. These are wheeled removable build chambers that transport raw material and 3D-printed parts between the printers and post-processing stations. Altogether, this equipment enables 24/7 production. Forecast 3D says that running all the printers at this rate, it would be possible to manufacture 50,000 unique iPhone 6 cases within a week, or as many as 2 million of a smaller gear part which could be nested within the MJF printer build envelope.

Forecast 3D highlights applications for Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing in Booth S23151.

Ken Burns, technical sales director, will also share how Forecast 3D has validated MJF for customer use cases in a presentation at the 3D Printing Workshop, scheduled for 1 p.m. on May 9.