Using direct digital manufacturing (DDM) as an alternative to traditional manufacturing is so new that it takes a bit of finesse to explain what it is and where it fits best in terms of production of end-use parts.
1. Complexity - parts that would be difficult or impossible to machine or mold
2. Large Up-front Investment - high initial cost of creating injection molds
3. Redesign - new product design that may be susceptible to changes
4. Customization - one-off products for custom applications
5. Low Production Volume - when you only need a few hundred to a couple of thousand parts
One project we did at RedEye hit on 4 of the 5 opportunities above, with the additional benefit of time to market. This company required camera enclosures for their photographers and also wanted to keep up to date with the latest digital camera technologies.
Opportunity # 1: Customization. This company created custom one-off enclosures based on the digital camera chosen for that year.
Opportunity # 2 and 3: Complexity and Large up-front Investment. With the first designs completed, their quotes on tooling were extremely high primarily due to the complexity of some of the components. But with a need to get the parts into the market quickly, they also couldn't afford the time it would have taken to create the tools.
Opportunity # 4: Low Production Volume. They only needed a few hundred complete assemblies.
This customer finally enjoyed another key benefit of DDM produced parts; batched production and shipping. Within the first week they were receiving the first batch of completed assemblies. This allowed them to start putting together their camera kits and sending to their photographers. With tooling they would have had to wait until the tooling was completed and the entire batch of parts had been molded; 4 to 6 weeks.
The next time you gear up for production with your latest product be sure to take a good hard look to see if direct digital manufacturing is right for you.