Once upon a time no one would have believed it possible to design a product on a computer screen and then be able to hold and test the actual part less than an hour later.
3D printing technology does just that. And the advantages are two-fold: speed and realism – with both these benefits intimately connected and actually feeding off of each other. Here’s how.
Prototyping Joins the Industrial Age
What is prototyping really? Essentially it’s the process of trying to build a product or part before you launch into the big expense of full production that requires tooling and molding machinery. Crudely put, the prototyping process is a throw-back to the pre-industrial revolution: hand-crafted models, flimsy materials such as wood or paper or clay, hand gluing and by-eye filing or sanding of parts.
What used to take days and weeks to prepare now takes minutes. Prototyping has always been an Achilles heel for modern mass-production and rapid manufacturing techniques.
The result is a (generally) poor representation of the end product you are trying to simulate and a highly inefficient use of time and human effort to achieve it.
Unique One-Off Parts – Quickly and Accurately
3D printing technology puts an immediate end to the manual prototyping bottleneck by providing a rapid and automatic means of fashioning unique one-of-a-kind parts. Along with speed, 3D printing provides the massive advantage of producing realistic representations that can be properly tested and checked for design faults early on in the design cycle. Once a design fault is identified in the model, designers and engineers can simply tweak the design on the CAD program and print again. Within an hour the fault is no more.
A Better End Product
Product designers and engineers can visualize themselves now literally flying through multiple prototyping cycles that used to take weeks or even months. With a more efficient and effective prototyping process in place, the result is a better end-product and one that can be placed into mass production faster than ever before.
A true win-win scenario for many, many companies, whether it’s a dental lab producing dental veneer prototypes, a Hollywood production company making an animation film, Jaguar Land Rover testing parts for a new car design, or adidas producing a new shoe sole design.
Next time we will take a closer look at some of the different 3D printing technologies out there and how they compare against each other. Stay tuned.
(All photos are model parts and prototypes printed on the Objet Connex multi-material 3D printer)