While 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) has advanced dramatically in recent years, making possible myriad parts - both prototype and production - moldmakers remain reluctant adopters of the technology. However, as usual, OEMs seem to be catching onto the advantages of 3D printing for a number of applications including building single-cavity pilot molds quickly and cheaply.
The whole idea of a "pilot" mold or "pre-production" mold is to test out the design and manufacturability of a component. While machine tool technology has advanced to provide faster production of soft (aluminum or P20) cores and cavities (some in less than a week), 3D printing offers even faster builds of a core/cavity set - in a day in some cases - that give part designers a real-world look at far less cost.
Recently, Stratasys announced a partnership with Worrell Design Inc., a medical product design and development firm, to help promote injection molds built using Stratasys' PolyJet-based 3D printers. The partnership will educate OEMs and promote the use of these 3D printed molds in the medical device industry as a way to improve time and costs to get products to market.