3D printing is changing product development

3D printing is rapidly gaining in popularity. It seems as though every week we hear about 3D printing being used in a new application; printing in metal, medical applications and even 3D printing houses.

While 3D printing is no longer a new technology. The increasing number of companies producing printers and new lower cost printers continuously coming on to the market are making the technology much more accessible.

3D printing is a design tool and one that is used extensively in the development of all types of products. The benefits of using 3D printing in the development process are numerous; reduction in prototyping costs, prototyping speed, the list goes on. While these are all important, the main benefit is that it encourages you to explore and test out more design ideas.

When developing a product, the product team are always generating, testing and evaluating new ideas. The ability to utilise 3D printing for this process encourages the team to generate and test more ideas.

To some extent 3D printing allows you to conduct A/B testing while developing physical products. If you have two competing design ideas, why not just print both parts and compare them? This has always been possible through prototyping, but 3D printing makes this process easier, faster, cheaper and more accurate than it ever has been.

3D printed fan impeller

Not only are 3D printed parts accurate, more so than with many other processes, the process is relatively fast. In most cases producing a 3D printed part takes only a few hours, depending on how complex the part is. While this is generally much longer than the time taken for production parts, the upfront costs are much lower. There are no tooling costs, no minimum order quantity and no production setup time.

The ability to discuss an idea, produce a design and have a printed part in your hand all within a matter of hours is truly amazing.

Product teams have always discussed ideas, debated details and then produced prototypes to test these ideas. The process has not changed, 3D printing did not create this design process. It just reduces the cost of failure.

When testing out a new design idea, using 3D printed parts it is now much easier to just try it and see if it works.

When discussing a new design idea, the conversation changes. Instead of asking “Is this ok?” or “Do we need to do another prototype?”, you start to say “Why don’t you just test it” and “Shall we just change x,y and z and then print another one”.

The barrier to entry for new ideas, design changes or improvements is lowered. The cost of failure is reduced. This encourages and nurtures creativity, which leads to increased innovation.

As it gets easier to test ideas it encourages you to push the boundaries of your design to see where it can be improved.

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