Most designers know that it’s not always wise to judge a design for a complex assembly from just a picture on a computer screen. You have to hold it in your hands, and turn the gears and move the parts to really ensure that it works as well as you believe.
One of the most remarkable aspects of 3D printing is its ability to automatically produce finished assemblies and fully-working mechanisms straight from the printer – with no need for manual assembly at all.
This remarkable capability, unique to certain types of 3D printing means that companies can test the fit and accuracy of designs using fully-functional prototypes well-before they hit the real assembly line – after which faults become far more expensive to fix. (See these videos for some practical application tips and examples)
The concept of the assembly line was developed by the Ford Motor Company between the years 1908 and 1915 and became synonymous with the Ford Model T, the first affordable, mass-produced vehicle. Mass production via assembly lines is believed by many to be the catalyst which started the modern consumer culture by enabling goods to be produced at low unit cost. To justify the economies of scale involved, however, you have to produce bulk orders – not useful if you want to test a single iteration of a new innovative design.
So while mass production is great for cost-efficient standardization, it’s like a fish out of water when it comes to prototyping and testing for new products.
In fact we’ve become so inculcated with the idea that every assembled product was necessarily put together on a production line that it’s a bit of a shock to the digestive system to suddenly see 3D printed finished assemblies homogenously grown in one go.
With a 3D printer you can design more efficient mechanisms and assemblies that could not be put together easily from seperate pieces, such as the brain gear in the photo.
All these finished assemblies came out of an Objet 3D printer exactly as you see them – with the interlocking parts and moving joints automatically and fully assembled and idential to the dimensions specified in the original CAD design.
All these prototypes were produced on the Objet Connex Multi-Material 3D printer.