In recent years, 3D printing has been very popular in the media limelight. It has been illustrated as both the savior of manufacturing but also nothing more than a vehicle for producing cheap gadgets. However, 3D printing has proven its value and relevancy. Its performance and aid in product development and manufacturing in undebatable. 3D printing has transformed product development life cycles by encouraging innovation, affordable customization and freedom in design. So how has 3D printing changed the way we make products?
Accelerating product development
Prototypes have always been a very important step in product development. Unfortunately, some products can take a great deal of time in the creation of the prototype. Fortunately, due to 3D printing, product developers can cut the time involved in prototyping. Quick prototyping helps faster iterations in the design process.
3D printed prototypes are useful as they can communicate an idea/mechanism and also highlight what’s working and what’s not. Having a prototype in your hand can is a reality check. The more you have throughout the development process, the more refined the product can become. Printed parts make the product development process a great deal faster, allowing for multiple design iterations in a short space of time.
3D printing has changed the process of product development by its ability to create a good impression. 3D printing allows you to hold something physical in your hand and actually see it in person rather than seeing it on a computer screen or a 2D image on a piece of paper. This ability to hold a physical item in your hand can go a long way towards making a great impression.
Designers and engineers now have the ability to produce prototypes to feel, not only for engineering validation but for market and user validation too. Sales and marketing teams can get real user feedback throughout the development of the product—all at a relatively low cost.
Reduced mistakes later in production phase
3D printing has the ability to offer fast iterations paired with precision, tolerance, and repeatability. This allows people to experiment and try new ideas. 3D printing offers designers and engineers a chance to take big risks without big costs or time implications. 3D printing has reduced costs in areas like research and development, testing and refinement, manufacturing and even shipping costs.
We can now manufacture for design instead of design for manufacturing. This means that engineers and designers have more ability to experiment and dive into new ideas without the financial and time risks of the past. This ability to experiment, test and refine ultimately produces better products and significantly reduces costs and mistakes later in the production phase.
Every industry can benefit from 3D printing. Thanks to the design freedom it affords, the fast turnaround, the affordable customization and its use as a manufacturing aid. There is no doubt that 3D printing has already proven itself. It is now firmly part of the product development process. Product developers must take advantage of it now. There’s absolutely no excuse not to utilize this technology to its fullest.
Agree with your comments completely. The big change as you say is the manufacture for design rather than design for manufacture. As a metal 3D printing service provider we are seeing an increased use of the technology as a manufacturing method due to the flexibility and cost reduction when the parts have been based on design rather than traditional manufacturing contraints.
Thanks Warwick. It’s an exciting time to be developing products. I am always discovering new additive materials and processes and they all have such different applications. I think what is really important is understanding what rapid prototype options are available and selecting the right one for the application. Good old subtractive CNC machining still has it’s place. I’m excited by 3D printed tooling … are you doing anything in this space?