3D printing has transformed the world of product development and limited-run manufacturing, giving designers a tool that can help them demonstrate the attributes of a new product, and manufacturing engineers a means of creating parts fast and reliably.
But even with those obvious advantages taken into account, 3D printing has many more benefits that make them the process of choice throughout the development and manufacturing processes. So read on to learn of the advantages of 3D printing.
It’s a money saving process
One of the major advantages of 3D printing is, due to many of its other attributes, it can be highly cost-effective compared with other development and manufacturing routes and that makes using a 3D printer highly attractive. But many additive processes can be used to create robust tools, too, further saving money on manufacturing routes.
Because your designs are driven through CAD/CAM files, you can add any features that you want, and modify them as you need too. Therefore, you can add moulded-on text and logos to define the product as something unique. And this personalisation becomes essential if a part is being used for medical or dental purposes, where items such as dental implants and other medical devices may need to be constructed to fit a particular person.
If you can think it, you can build it
3D printing as an additive process is as flexible as your imagination, and if you can imagine something, then the chances are that you can construct it too. Because the processes add material in very fine layers and cure them before adding the next layer, the substrate is always ridged and supportive of whatever is being laid up on top. Therefore, your designs can be either as wacky as you can imagine or be something that cannot be manufactured by other means due to its detail and geometry.
Reduce time to market
3D printing is a fast-turnaround process that is driven by the power of CAD/CAM so it becomes a fast process to operate, even from the first principles of design. Once you have you completed a design – or even if you are not sure how your design is going to turn out – it becomes only a short job to get it transferred to the 3D printer and have an actual space model, and that means that you can get a prototype product made quickly, and a real product in the market fast. This is important if you have a new product that cannot be protected legally, and you need to be fast to market to cut down on the “me too” competitors who will seek to copy your designs.
New Product Introduction (NPI) is an expensive process that can tie up the time of many designers and engineers. The rapid realisation of your new product will help uncover any potential issues long before you have sealed the design, thereby reducing any risk that may be associated with it. Being able to verify a design before investing in an expensive mould tool is worth its weight in gold. Printing a production-ready prototype builds confidence before making these large investments. It is far cheaper to 3D print a test prototype than to redesign or alter an existing mould.
It’s a money saving process
As its name implies, rapid prototyping is fast – depending upon the size and complexity of your design, of course – and it makes an excellent and fast production process too, and that can make economic sense in the cut-throat world of product development. Simply put, the 3D printing process has the advantages of the creation of parts and/or tools through additive manufacturing at rates much lower than traditional machining.
Clear communication of what you mean
Trying to describe the product you are going to deliver can lead to misinterpretation since it leaves construction up to the imagination, particularly when you are seeking financial backing. A conceptual picture of the product is better than the description since it is worth 1,000 words, but getting to hold the tangible product-to-be, in hand, clears all lines of communication. There is no ambiguity when your potential backers or customers are holding the exact or at least a very close, form of the product.
In much the same way as a real-life design can help people visualise your intentions, it can also be used for gaining valuable feedback on your current design and any changes that people think it needs. With a prototype, you can test the market by unveiling it at a tradeshow, showing it to potential buyers or investors. Getting buyers’ responses to the product before it actually goes into production is a valuable way to verify that it has market potential.
If you have a component that needs to mesh with others, rapid prototyping can help you quickly manufacture a space model that represents the part without the cost of having it made in its final materials, which may be costly. In this way, if changes are needed, a new space model can be made quickly and at low cost.
Feel your design
A designer will build up a mental picture of their latest creation, but that goes to a whole new level if they are able to actually hold it. If you need to ensure the ergonomics and fit of a product are just right, you must actually hold it, use it and test it to really do so.
Odd features are not a problem
Certain profiles and elements, such as odd-shaped or square apertures, are difficult to produce in a real product but both easy and cost-effective if using rapid prototyping techniques such as 3D printing. Once you have printed the component, you can check if the square hole is really necessary, and change it before you commit to a design.
Fail fast but fail cheap
If you do use 3D printing to realise your designs, and then find that its either not going to work at all or needs some updating, then you haven’t spent a lot of money finding that out… and everyone loves the sound, economic sense.