3D printing offers enormous potential, especially in product development. This is due, among other things, to the wide range of equipment and manufacturing processes that have been developed for use in private households, companies, research institutions and the like. The diverse material compositions are also helping to drive 3D printing forward. For example, change requests to prototypes can be implemented more quickly and, in some cases, more cost-effectively than is the case with most conventional manufacturing processes. For larger industrial companies in particular, some of which have bloated supply chains and long product development cycles, it has been difficult to respond to customer requests more quickly and efficiently. Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, can help remedy this situation.
Smaller companies can also benefit from technology if they discover or further exploit their creative powers. A 3D printer can quickly become one of the most important tools here in rapid prototyping and also in manufacturing.
How does 3D printing support product development?
With 3D printing technology, companies have full control over the development process. There is no need for another company to make the prototypes as contract work. Furthermore, it is also possible to check at any time which materials are used. Based on the results obtained, modifications to the design are then possible at any time.
If the company has numerous 3D printing machines, it can develop and launch many new products every year, as numerous prototypes could be produced in a shorter time. At the same time, the time frame for testing and design revision is greater before the products are mass-produced. For small series or individual models, the use of a 3D printer is then again conceivable.
Of course, it doesn't make sense for every small business to use its own 3D printer. An interesting alternative here is outsourcing to appropriate service providers. So, as a business owner, you shouldn't be thinking about whether you want to use technology, but how best to integrate it.
Shorter development intervals
3D printing makes it possible for companies of all sizes to significantly reduce the time from the initial idea to shipping the first prototype. Previously, it was necessary for designers to submit their 2D sketches to molded part manufacturers, and then different approaches had to be taken for manufacturing. With the additively manufactured models, this is now much easier, especially since the files can also be passed on.
For example, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing Director of Product Management Chuck Alexander commented that 3D printing is advancing product development at nearly every stage of the design and manufacturing process. This starts with prototyping and small batch production and extends to packaging. Now it is also possible to produce ready-to-sell products outside the traditional product lines.
No more design restrictions
With additive manufacturing, it is now possible to produce components or other objects that otherwise could not be produced in a single operation, or could only be produced very poorly or at considerable cost. Examples include the automotive industry and the aerospace industry. Audi, for example, has invested significantly in prototyping using 3D printing and has even been involved in the development of spacecraft. 3D printing has also become indispensable in other areas of the aerospace industry. For example, individual rocket components that need to be particularly light are manufactured using additive manufacturing. There is also a 3D printer on the ISS that can print tools, for example.
Of particular interest are multitool 3D printers, which allow multimaterial manufacturing, enabling different techniques. For example, ZMorph VX is a 3D printer equipped with interchangeable tool heads. This makes it possible to process both laser 3D printing, CNC engraving and cutting, and printing of various substances such as chocolate and ceramics. In rapid prototyping, multitool 3D printers are used to produce working prototypes, which should be made of the same, or at least nearly identical, materials that will later be used in mass production.
Cost reduction and lower material consumption
By using 3D printing, it is possible to significantly reduce development and production costs in rapid prototyping. This is particularly the case if the technology is used internally. Thus, it becomes possible for companies to sell their products at lower prices.
Another factor contributing to the improved cost-effectiveness of 3D printing is the fact that only the exact amount of filament is used that is necessary to manufacture the product and any support structures it may require. The support structures can later be re-melted into new filament.
Especially the multitool 3D printers have another advantage – they often require less energy than the previously used devices. The purchase of additional equipment – for example a laser engraver or a CNC cutting machine – may then also no longer be necessary.
Customer wishes can be better taken into account
With 3D printing technology, it is possible to respond more flexibly to customer requests. Products can be tailored directly to customers' needs, but can also stand out from the crowd and breathe new life into many a used item. The latter is the case, for example, in the production of vehicle spare parts of classic cars, which are no longer produced by the manufacturer and are also not in stock. With the appropriate file, which can eventually be created yourself, the parts can be replicated, and almost anywhere.
Location independence is one of the other advantages of 3D printing. For example, spare parts can be printed right on site in the workshop and do not have to be ordered from the middleman or the manufacturer first.
In addition to businesses, many individuals and artists also use 3D printers. With these devices, they can produce gadgets, decorative items, jewelry and other creative products as prototypes or in small series, to name just a few examples. If these objects are no longer fashionable, it is quickly possible to produce other items. They can design objects themselves as well as use existing files that have been uploaded to renowned 3D printing platforms, for example.
Based on these explanations, it is easy to see the potential that lies in the development of products in additive manufacturing. We can be curious about the future here as well.