There’s a famous scene in “The Graduate”, the iconic 60’s movie that made a star out of Dustin Hoffman, and which besmirched a material that 50 years later has made a stunning comeback.
It comes at a graduation party for Hoffman’s character: one of the adult party-goers corrals “Ben”, the Hoffman character, leads him outside to the pool for some privacy, grabs him around the shoulders, leans over conspiratorially and says:
“I just want to say one word to you… just one word. Are you listening?”
“Yes, I am,” Ben replies earnestly.
“Plastics,” the older man intones.
The scene was intended as a sociopolitical comment on the artificiality of the mid-60’s “Establishment” and transformed plastics into a metaphor for everything that was wrong with that era’s older generation.
That was then: today 3-D printing and other technologies have made plastics one of the hottest (no pun intended, injection molders!) materials in the industrial sector. There are many reasons for this, of course, with cost, durability and versatility obviously leading the way. But perhaps the biggest reason is that today’s younger generation (Millennials and GenX) no longer looks at plastics the way the younger generation of the ’60s did. Plastics are simply too much a part of their lives — from plastic beverage bottles to plastic-injection molded electronic parts like smart phone cases and plastic computer keyboards — the list is endless.
While there are other methods of mass-producing plastic products, (blow-molding, the aforementioned 3-D printing), plastic injection molding still ranks as one of the major methods by which this infinitely malleable material, in all its incarnations (ABS, polypropylene, et. al.) is transformed into the products that make up daily life.
Perhaps 3-D printing is the technology that finally pushed plastics over the line into “cool-ville” (which is a term no self-respecting Millennial would ever use, BTW!) With its cutting-edge robotics and ultra-fast production times, “3DP” is a technology that is taking the world by storm — and our industry with it. And while this exciting new technology isn’t quite ready to replace conventional injection molding just yet, it isn’t hard to envision a character in a movie produced in the not-too-distant future who leads an impressionable young graduate outside and says:
” I just have one thing to say to you… 3-D printing!”