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How does 3D printing support the product design process?



The ability to turn an idea into a tangible prototype in a matter of hours is just one of the reasons why we love 3D printing, here at Mdesign. Indeed, we bought our first 3D printer way back in 2014, recognising its potential to support our product development process (and because we love innovative tech!).


In this blog, we’re going to delve into 3D printing in more detail and breakdown the many benefits of using this technology in product design workflows.


While it may feel like 3D printing is a relatively new technology it’s actually been around for a few decades now – existing as far back as the 1980s. In the last few years, however, the use of 3D printing in industry and advances in the technology itself have propelled it from a niche enjoyed by a handful of hobbyists to being regarded as an important part of the design and manufacturing lifecycle.


In the product design sector especially, the speed, efficiency, accuracy and accessibility of 3D printing has revolutionised the way prototypes are produced, and product features tested. The technology is also having an impact for manufacturing, due to its ability to produce smaller product runs. Find out more in our blog ‘Manufacturing innovations to look out for in 2023’.




What is 3D printing?


Like the name implies, 3D printing is the art of printing in 3D. You simply send a file to print (in this case a CAD file) in the same way as you would do with a standard printer. However, instead of printing onto a flat surface such as paper, a 3D printer constructs the desired object by building up layer upon layer of material.


In this respect, 3D printing falls into what is known as ‘additive manufacturing’. The process of building up something from nothing differentiates 3D printing from traditional methods of manufacturing, whereby you start with a hunk of material that you sculpt and mould into the desired shape.


With 3D printing, each layer builds upon the next to the exact dimensions and proportions required, so you never experience any material wastage. Together with being more environmentally friendly, 3D printing is also a far faster method of production too, allowing you to turn a computer aided design into a solid object within a matter of hours.




How does 3D printing support the product design process?

3D printing supports the design process in a number of ways:



Rapid prototyping


One of the best uses of 3D printing in the product design process is rapid prototyping. In this regard, the ease and speed of 3D printing really excels.


Prototyping is a fundamental part of bringing any new product to market. It offers the chance to see how well your design translates from a concept into a material product, evaluate its strength, durability, and integrity, and make refinements until the idea is perfect and ready to be mass manufactured.


Historically this would be one of the longest stages in the design process, taking weeks, months, or even years to reach fruition. The longer the prototyping process takes, the more of an impact it can have on project timescales and, as a consequence, budgets. Conversely, rushing the prototyping stage opens you up to the risk of bringing an inferior product to market.


That’s where rapid prototyping using 3D printing really is a game changer. It allows you to generate physical product prototypes faster than any other prototyping method, reducing the process from days, weeks, or months to just a matter of hours.


It’s also much cheaper to create a prototype using this method.


There’s no need to go through the traditional and costly route of commissioning a prototype to be made by hand, nor having to invest in product moulds at each prototyping stage. With 3D printing you simply generate a computer aided design which gets sent directly to the printer. Then it’s just a case of sitting back and waiting as your prototype takes shape layer by layer.


As soon as you take the prototype off the printer you can waste no time assessing its integrity and testing its functionality. Any required changes can then be updated in the original CAD on site and the file immediately sent to print, with the revised prototype ready just as fast as the first one.



Small batch production


As well as the unparalleled speed at which 3D printing can generate rapid prototypes, the accessibility and low cost of the technology can also be used to great effect when it comes to small scale production.


Whether you’re only releasing a limited run of products, for which traditional manufacturing would prove too costly, or you need to produce a small quantity of items for quality testing purposes as part of the development lifecycle, 3D printing offers an ideal solution.


The technology gives you the ability to generate as few as 10 samples. What’s more, the quality is also of a good enough standard to submit for clinical testing. In fact, for SMEs in particular, 3D printing offers a financially accessible means to rival larger competitors with greater budgets and spending power.



Parts and tools


3D printing isn’t only confined to creating rapid prototypes and small batch production. The technology is now so advanced that, with the right grade material, it’s also possible to use 3D printing as a tool for manufacturing end-use products. This may include component parts that sit within a more intricate system, or support pieces that play a vital role in an overall product’s design.


In this respect, 3D printing’s usage extends far and wide, offering a sustainable and accessible means of inexpensively producing small parts and products that can be used within a wide range of industrial applications.




Need product development support?


At Mdesign, we work with customers across all stages of the product development process – from initial R&D to design thinking, prototyping and manufacture.


To discuss a project and to find out more about how our team could support you, email jeff.mabbott@mdesign.com.sg

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