Thanks to additive manufacturing and affordable desktop digital fabrication machines, 3D printing boosts product development in literally every industry out there.
Modern customers don’t like to wait and instead prefer to be amazed by new ideas and inventions on a daily basis. This poses a problem for bigger industrial manufacturers with their bloated supply chains, long product development cycles and inability to fabricate products customized to the needs of customers who put quality over quantity.
While many major industrial manufacturers successfully adapt 3D printing to their needs, the consumer-driven market is full of great opportunities for smaller companies and individual makers who are ready to use all of their creative forces to meet people’s demand. A 3D printer can easily become their prime tool for rapid prototyping and even manufacturing as 3D printing boosts product development in countless ways. We gathered just a few of them below.
Full in-house product development
The first way 3D printing boosts product development is how the technology can give you a full control over the development process. By owning a 3D printer, companies can cut out the middleman from their rapid prototyping cycles and manufacture working prototypes of their products in-house. This gives them control over digital fabrication process and materials being used as well as allows them to quickly adjust and modify the design based on the results.
By owning their own 3D printing machines (and even entire labs), companies that introduce a number of products to the market a year, have an ability to fabricate a larger number of prototypes in a shorter time. It gives them more time for testing and perfecting their products before they go into mass production. Food industry giant Cadbury is a great example here. Thanks to 3D printing, their R&D department is able to quickly prototype and test new types of sweets which can go into production quicker than when they were using traditional manufacturing techniques.
Not every company will benefit from owning their own 3D printers, some might even gain more by sticking to outsourcing this type of services. The most important thing here is that we’re not considering whether to use this technology at all but in which way it should be used.
Faster supply chains and shorter lead times
With additive manufacturing technology at hand, industrial manufacturers, small companies, and makers can reduce the time it takes them from sketching the idea to manufacturing or from an order to shipping products to clients.
Designers no longer have to take their 2D sketches to molding manufacturers and try different approaches to manufacturing them. With a 3D printed prototype similar in size and properties to a final product, it’s much easier to communicate and verify the idea. Sharing this idea is also easier with virtual inventories of ready-to-print files allowing everyone to quickly print a working prototype or a part of the design that they need at the moment.
According to Chuck Alexander, director of product management for Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, 3D printing boosts product development at literally every stage of the process from prototyping, through aiding the manufacturers in creating precise parts, to packaging and customization. Technology advanced so much in the last 30 years, that it now allows manufacturing ready-to-sale products outside of the traditional production lines.
Fewer construction constraints
Another way 3D printing boosts product development is by providing new ways of overcoming construction constraints. Some precise parts can’t be manufactured without additive manufacturing technology, other are simply cheaper to fabricate this way.
Ford and their implementation of 3D printing are the best examples of that. The automotive legend was able to reduce costs of prototyping, significantly accelerate the process and achieve such quality, that some of the 3D printed components are now used as parts in their experimental cars and could go into mass production soon.
Multitool 3D printers break new barriers and construction constraints by allowing multi-material 3D printing or using various manufacturing techniques within a single machine. ZMorph VX with its interchangeable toolheads enables users to 3D print, CNC cut and engrave with a laser, and even print with ceramics and chocolate. Used for rapid prototyping, it allows creating working prototypes from the same (or very similar) materials that are later used in mass production. Product development teams are now able to test and improve their products to a level that was previously unattainable.
Reduced costs and lack of wastefulness
Three previous ways 3D printing boosts product development brings us to this very pragmatic point. Implementing digital fabrication into rapid prototyping and manufacturing process can noticeably reduce development costs. Especially when the technology is used internally, it provides savings both in time and money which allows companies to offer more competitive prices for their products.
Additive manufacturing technology is also very economical when it comes to the amount of materials being used in the process. 3D printers use only the exact amount of filament they need for fabricating the object and its support structures. The latter can be melted back into filament instead of becoming waste.
Depending on the machine, 3D printers can also provide energy savings compared to complex production lines with desktop machines requiring even less power than big industrial printers. Owning a multitool 3D printer can also provide further savings because they serve as three machines in one – 3D printer, CNC cutter, and a laser engraver.
Customization and low volume manufacturing
More and more people over the world value quality over quantity. They also prefer buying products tailored to fit their needs, instead of stuffing their pockets and homes with impersonal junk. 3D printing provides companies with means to stand out from the crowd and even give new life to well-known products.
Every kid plays with some kind of dolls or action figures and toy market is a very competitive one. How can toy companies stand out on it and gain new customers? MyFaceOnAFigure found a way by replacing heads of regular dolls with 3D printed likenesses of their clients. In this case, 3D printing boosts product development by making their figures more personal and interesting to kids, comic book geeks, collectors, and many other groups.
Another interesting example is Silvia Fado, a footwear designer who uses ZMorph multitool 3D printer to fabricate heels and soles for her custom-made shoes. For many similar makers and artists, 3D printing is often the main manufacturing tool used to create designer gadgets, home ornaments or customizable jewelry that is later sold on websites like Shapeways and Trove.
Many ways 3D printing boosts product development
We gathered only a few examples of how 3D printing boosts product development. Whether it’s by giving the full control over the rapid prototyping process, by shortening the supply chain or breaking construction constraints in manufacturing, the technology is here to stay. Wise businessmen and entrepreneurs should use it to lower development costs and gain a competitive advantage on the market.
Probably the biggest and the hardest to describe is the way 3D printing changes how manufacturing industry professionals, smaller companies, and makers think about the technology and its future perspectives.
Recent PwC’s report gives a small glimpse into that, showing that additive manufacturing is no longer just a novelty but became a valid (and often leading) rapid prototyping and manufacturing technology available. There are many examples that nowadays it’s much easier to create a successful product with a 3D printer involved in the process, than without using this technology.