Using 3D Printing to Enhance Your Design Process

The process of designing can be a costly and long winded affair. Whether it is the designing of bridges or buildings, mechanical products, electro mechanical gadgets, works of art, the whole process can become very protracted and will go through many iterations and may even evolve through an element of trial and error.

The desired path when designing an item is to produce the perfect product in as short a time scale as possible, one that exactly fits the brief, taking into account all the different variables and constraints imposed along the way. Keeping the process short means that costs are reduced but most designs will typically takes many turns and loops away from the desired straight line as often multiple changes are introduced along the way.

And so these design and engineering changes become more expensive with each step in the design process. An Industry Report by Wohlers states that “a modest engineering change costing £100 in the proof of concept phase of design might cost ten times as much in the development phase and could cost nearly a thousand times as much in the production stage – that is a staggering ten thousand times as much by the time the product is in service!”

Proving your design early

It is absolutely critical that the design is as “perfect” as possible as early as possible in the whole process and any design changes must be made early on to avoid the large cost implications. This is where a 3D printer steps in, by enabling all those involved in the design to review accurate models. And because this can be done early on in the design process any changes are less expensive to make. Plus the more functional the 3D printed model is the more valuable the model is, since it more closely represents the actual production part.

By using ABS plastic the models are more robust than powder based models, so when designing a mobile phone for example, the casings can have snap clips and the internals assembled and screwed into the housing the same as in the final product will have and can be thoroughly tested as a successful product design requires review and input from many sources. Traditionally 3D CAD files, finite element analysis, heat flow analysis and renderings would be used to help define the product but these can easily be misinterpreted by anyone from design engineers to marketing executives. But when a 3D CAD design is transformed into a physical 3D print there is no substitute for the tactile and visual feedback a physical model provides to all participants in the design process.

By utilising 3D printing for a prototype immediate feedback is generated on everything including aesthetics, ergonomics, form, function and weight and is more in a medium that can be understood by all involved. As a result the invaluable information gained can be used to drive numerous design iterations and provide the much needed confidence to pursue a particular design path.

Enhancing the odds

Every year a considerably high number of new product initiatives fail and with the current business climate the way it is it now dictates that companies ask their employees to do more with less, making 3D CAD systems and 3D printing capabilities essential tools to enable efficient product design and development. With a 3D printer companies can now experiment with new ideas and numerous design iterations much quicker and more cost effectively. Also iteration times decrease and so does the need to invest in expensive tooling.

All of these factors will help to determine whether a product concept is worthy of allocating additional resources before the expense is committed.

More information on 3D Printing and real life examples of 3D models used in the design process.

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