Breaking the mold on injection molding
Photo courtesy of Merit3D
Merit3D has quite literally broken the mold on traditional manufacturing methods by providing a much more economical and agile process, Loveless says. Normally, a company looking to purchase a part would first buy a single, unalterable metal injection mold for $10,000, then have the parts manufactured (usually in China) using the mold.
With Merit3D, a company can make as many changes as they want to the 3D design of the part and have it printed in the United States, bypassing both the prototype phase and the need for reliance on China and other unstable supply chain resources, Loveless says.
People write off the idea of using 3D printing for manufacturing because they think it’s slow, poor quality and only used for prototypes. They are wrong, Loveless says. “Our new technology keeps evolving. Now we can go fast. Now we can get textures that are just amazing, and we can get durability on parts.”
Merit3D was born of necessity. Its sister company, 40-year-old Dustless Technologies, required injection molds for vacuum machine parts. Loveless, who heads up both companies, says he was “very sick of the current manufacturing process.” So, he set out to find a way to make 3D printing more feasible.
Photo courtesy of Merit3D
Production at Merit3D has catapulted to 500 times more than last year, Loveless says. Last year, Merit3D was awarded funding to purchase some equipment under the Utah Manufacturing Modernization Grant. Shortly after that, the company scored a contract to make 1 million epoxy-tube mixing nozzles—the largest 3D order ever made, according to Merit3D.
Merit3D currently makes phone cases, pop tops, knife skins, pens, backpacking parts and automotive parts. The process involves printing 400 items at a time out of resin. “It’s on a flat plate, and it goes down into a bed of resin, and then it grows out of the resin: 400, all at once,” Loveless says.
Merit3D plans to triple production over the next three to five years and has a greater vision in mind. “Our goal is to convert Carbon County and Emery County into a tech manufacturing Mecca and replace the coal-mining jobs that are being phased out as the war on coal goes forward,” Loveless says. He hopes to create enough business in Carbon County to add at least 1,700 jobs: the number of jobs lost directly to coal mines and coal plants shutting down.
To aid in this goal, Merit3D partnered with Utah State University Eastern to create an advanced manufacturing program that teaches 3D printing skills. “We’ve actually had coal miners go through the program,” Loveless says. “We end up hiring most of the people that go through the program.”
Holding up one of Merit3D’s pens, Loveless pointed out a logo on the side. “This logo was actually put on there by an ex-coal miner,” he says. “Most pens are made in China. And so, this is one of the successes of reshoring products.”