Prototyping is a crucial part of product development. It helps manufacturers bring their ideas to life on a small-scale. Prototypes help manufacturers gain valuable insights into how a fully-functional product will work. This helps to save development time and cost, as necessary modifications can be made before massive full-scale production begins.
In the product development world, there are three major ways of creating a physical, 3D prototype of a product. They include:
- Subtractive manufacturing
This method involves chopping away pieces from a material, like metal until the desired shape and form are achieved. This cutting process can be done manually or with the use of a Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machinery.
- Injection modeling
This manufacturing process involves injecting heated materials into a mold. The mold defines the shape and form of the prototype.
- Additive manufacturing (popularly referred to as 3D printing)
In this process, the 3D design is uploaded to a computer file. The 3D printer then creates the prototype by adding (or printing) materials layer by layer.
Although 3D printing has been around since the ’80s, their adoption only began to kick off in 2010. While only 56,507 3D printers were sold in 2013, that number rose to over 5.5 million in 2019. The reason for the meteoric rise is because 3D printers have found application in a wide variety of fields. They are, indeed, a useful piece of technology.
Here are some of the benefits of 3D printing:
Faster Time-to-market Turnaround
Consumers constantly want products that will make their lives easier – lighter but more efficient running shoes, more intelligent gaming processors, self-driving cars, slicker phones, and more. As scientists, engineers, and designers come up with ideas to realize these objectives, there is a need for quick prototyping.
Traditionally subtractive manufacturing and injection modeling takes weeks to complete. On the other hand, a functional prototype can be built within days, if not hours, with 3D printing. This enables engineers to evaluate their designs and test features more quickly. Ultimately, it reduces the design-to-production time.
When doing small production runs and applications, no other method beats 3D printing in terms of cost-effectiveness. CNC machining and injection modeling make use of several expensive pieces of machinery. Moreover, they require lots of operators and technicians, thereby increasing labor costs.
On the other hand, 3D printing is done with either one or two pieces of machinery. Furthermore, fewer operators are needed. This drastically cuts down the overall cost associated with them.
Theoretically speaking, there is an infinite number of 3-dimensional designs that can be visualized. Therefore, how well a manufacturing method can accommodate this diversity is a great factor when assessing its merit.
With subtractive manufacture, materials have to be chipped off a solid block. What happens if you require a geometry that contains cavities? It’s practically impossible to cut out a cavity, so you’ll have to look for workarounds, which takes time and effort.
In the case of injection modeling, a mold must first be created for any new prototype design (even if it was slightly modified). This process is quite inefficient and it poses some technical challenges.
Contrast that with 3D modeling, where the designs are printed layer by layer. This makes it possible to manufacture geometries impossible for traditional methods. Moreover, making edits is super easy as only computer designs need to be changed. The printer does the rest.
In today’s world where we’re more aware of the dangers of inefficiencies – like the waste of natural resources or environmental pollution – the environmental impact of our actions must be taken into considerations.
Subtractive manufacturing is highly wasteful because materials need to be chopped off. Even though these materials may be recycled, it takes energy, effort, and money to do that. Moreover, traditional methods are quite sophisticated and require outsourcing. The movement of products around the globe takes energy.
But with 3D printers, all of this can be avoided. It creates less waste. Also, fewer things need to be shipped around.
Improved Quality and Consistency
From time to time, traditional manufacturing methods churn out poor quality prototypes. A mistake in the mold configuration will result in the wrong shape. As a result, quality is not always guaranteed. Since 3D printings allow a layer by layer assembly of the part, it results in better quality.
Traditional manufacturing processes are susceptible to inconsistency, which results in lots of defective products. Since 3D printing takes an individualistic approach, each part can be closely monitored. This helps to reduce the number of defective parts and improve overall consistency.
Supports a Wider Range of Raw Materials
With subtractive or injection mold manufacturing, product designers have to carefully determine the optimal materials to use. When mass manufacturing with these traditional methods, the blending of raw materials is impractical as it is too expensive and complicated.
On the other hand, 3D printing accommodates a diverse range of raw materials like paper, glass, metal, biomaterial, ceramics, silver, and more. This is an empowering tool for product designers.
Because of its effectiveness, 3D printing is finding applications in a wide array of other fields. In the medical sector, 3D printing is used to print organs like kidneys, livers, and hearts for the human body. This has helped save the lives of many. And with the rapid increase in R&D, it would find an even greater application for other medical conditions.
The aerospace industry has also found a unique use for 3D printing. They use it to create lighter parts, without compromising on strength and integrity. Every ounce saved means more weight is available for passengers or cargo. Making super-efficient parts with traditional methods is difficult. But thanks to 3D printing, it is easier than ever.
3D printing has a restricted build size and is not efficient for large volumes. However, this technology is still in its infant stages. Even with its current benefits, it has found diverse applications where it’s superior to traditional methods. As 3D technology advances, things can only get better!
We know you have questions. Contact us today for your next 3D printing project.