3D printing has emerged as one of the most prominent trends worldwide in recent years. While you may be familiar with the concept of 3D printing, what you might not realize is that this technology is also employed for the production of metal parts using metal 3D printing. In fact, if you’re seeking a solution for custom metal part manufacturing services, you have several options at your disposal, including CNC machining, die casting, metal injection molding, and 3D metal printing. We have another article that compares die casting and metal injection molding. However, in this article, we will delve into the comparison between metal 3D printing and metal injection molding.

Overview of MIM and Their Production Process

Metal Injection Molding, or MIM, can be traced back to 1930s, with early demonstrations and applications in the United States and Germany. Today, MIM is a manufacturing process that seamlessly blends the worlds of plastic injection molding and powder metallurgy. This ingenious fusion enables the creation of precision metal parts with complex geometries within a few processes.

Below are the classic process of MIM:

ProcessDescription
Feedstock CompoundingFine metal powders are blended with thermoplastic materials and wax binders, creating granulated feedstock.
Injection MoldingFeedstock pellets are heated and molded in conventional injection molding machines, forming “Green Parts.”
DebindingGreen parts undergo debinding in a furnace to remove binders, resulting in “Brown Parts.”
SinteringBrown parts are sintered in a furnace, eliminating remaining binders and achieving density, becoming “Sintered Parts.”

Overview of Metal 3D Printing and Their Production Process

Today, Metal 3D printing has found its way into several applications and industries, from crafting rocket engines and precision hip implants to fashioning automotive spare components and exquisite jewelry. Continuous technological strides have not only accelerated the metal 3D printing process but also rendered it more cost-effective and dependable than ever before.

There are three different methods of metal 3D printing:

  • SLM (Selective Laser Melting),
  • DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering),
  • EBM (Electron Beam Melting).

Though these methods may differ, they share a common core—harnessing high-energy processes to shape metal powder into tangible, metal parts.

Process of metal 3D printing

When to Used Metal 3D Printing and MIM?

AspectMetal Injection Molding (MIM)Metal 3D Printing
Technology AgeOver 40 yearsOver 20 years
Production VolumeBest for more than 20,000/yearBest for less than 20,000/year
Mold Cost$5k-10k (per mold)No mold required
Part ComplexityLimited geometryDesign freedom
Design ModificationsBest for parts without frequent changesBest for parts with frequent design updates
Tolerance and Production StabilityHigher tolerance with stable productionNormal tolerance in production
Cost ConsiderationsHigh tooling costs, potential additional costs for design changesHigh cost per part due to equipment and material costs
SuitabilitySuitable for high-volume production of small, complex partsSuitable for low-volume production of complex parts difficult to produce through injection molding