3d printing rapid prototyping

3D printing speeds up prototyping

Rapid prototyping is one of the oldest use cases known to 3D printing. Several companies have used 3D printing for rapid prototyping in the last two decades.

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA) are the guiding principles of traditional product design.  The product designer who thinks of a new product will have to subject herself to the principles of DFM and DFA.

3D printing does away with both of these constraints in one fell swoop. It feels like cutting off the Gordian knot. Free of these constraints, the 3D printing designer can let her imagination run riot. She can include more than one materials in one single design, not worrying about DFA. She can introduce complex shapes which are not bound by DFM. The ability to do this gives the designer a new type of design freedom which has not existed hitherto.

All this rhetoric does not mean that the designer has unlimited freedom in design. The designer has to remember that the product will use additive manufacturing. During the design optimization phase, she has to take into account the following factors:

  • The envelope of the product (largest dimension) to make sure it fits the 3D printer of choice.
  • The product design has to maintain the structural integrity of the product.
  • The material(s) chosen should meet two goals:
    • Suitability of the material for the product end use.
    • The ability of the 3D printer to be able to print those materials.
  • The fill factor needed to balance material saving vs structural integrity. This is a delicate trade-off that is usually perfected over a few iterations.
  • Adequate provisions have to be provided for overhangs and depressions in the design, to suit the end use. The use of materials such as ABS gives the designer enormous flexibility in making such choices.
  • The additive design also has to meet the aesthetic standards of the product.

If the product design accommodates all these needs,  the print will produce expected results. It is possible to make quick design changes and reprint several iterations. This helps to optimize the product design sooner.

Rapid prototyping with additive manufacturing gives several advantages over the traditional methods.

These include lower costs, lesser assembly, faster time to market, and savings from lower part weight. The biggest benefit accrued from rapid prototyping with 3D printing is the ability to meet windows of opportunity. This provides a big competitive advantage to the company that uses 3D printing. Companies that still use traditional manufacturing will not be able to match this advantage.