Product engineers and designers have a tough challenge in front of them. On a daily basis, they have to work in an ultra-competitive environment and innovate new and exciting products and designs that not only resonate with consumers, but solve problems and overcome obstacles in the field.
The advent of 3D printing has helped manufacturers and engineers better perform in the workplace by giving them a low-cost, high-efficiency way to design, prototype, and develop new products and put them into the field.
How 3D Printing Has Changed the Game
Formerly, the design and prototyping process was long, convoluted, and fraught with potential for error. It was expensive to prototype a product several times, revising each iteration based off feedback from the company and from consumers, and developing an end product that was polished enough to fulfill its core purpose – not just qualitatively, but quantitatively.
Now, though, engineers can generate low-cost prototypes early on in the process, and can rapidly check these products for fit, form, and function. They can quickly gauge reaction from the consumer base and adjust the design as needed. They can also rapidly produce production parts if necessary – and deploy them to the field faster than ever before.
There are four ways 3D printing has changed the game for product design and manufacturing.
Creating Tangible Products from Ideas
In the conceptual design phase, products are born and cultivated. Only a fraction of ideas can actually be brought to fruition, but no one ever knows which product will be The One at the beginning. Testing and prototyping is required, but that takes time, energy, and resources.
With 3D printing, you can more quickly take an idea and turn it into a tangible product to see if the idea has merit. You can test a higher percentage of your ideas – or all of them – and winnow out the ones that aren’t feasible based off your prototypes and initial productions.
Creating Functional Prototypes
Models are useful for testing a potential product’s viability. However, it’s not always easy to ensure that all the features of the prototype will be right when outsourcing these models to third-party providers. Plus, turn-around time can delay a product.
By having an in-house 3D printing capacity, companies can actually create functional models and prototypes in their own facilities – even at someone’s desk – and avoid both problems mentioned above. You can evaluate performance and fine-tune products without making a commitment to production tooling or outsourcing.
Creating Jigs and Fixtures
We have spoken previously on the role 3D printing plays in making jigs and fixtures for the manufacturing process. In short, in-house 3D printing allows a company to quickly respond to customer demand by crafting custom products using jigs and fixtures that were made with 3D printing.
When signals come in from the field that something needs to change, it often requires a jig or a fixture. These take time to create, especially when there’s no advance warning. 3D printing allows you to rapidly produce a jig or a fixture so that you can produce the product or revise the design and put the new version back into the field.
A tremendous amount of time is saved by being able to print on the spur of the moment and have results overnight.
Manufacturing Custom End-Use Parts
Finally, 3D printing allows a business to unlock the power of custom parts. You can actually skip the tooling process completely by printing production-grade parts from CAD files – which is very valuable in a low-volume, high-value production process.
If you can design it, you can create it – making it possible to customize every part of the process and skip several steps from the design phase to the production phase. 3D printing isn’t just for prototyping; it’s also for creating end-use products that go directly into the field.
Contact us today to find out more about how 3D Printing is changing manufacturing and design.