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Rapid Prototyping £d Printers

Rapid prototyping in house using 3D Printing

With 3D printing becoming more cost effective with every year that passes how can 3D printing be used to cut product development cost and time?

We often find that companies that are considering bringing their rapid prototyping in house seek as much reassurance that the benefits are real and tangible before making their investment so thought that the following scenario would give an example of its use.

Recently we had a situation where a concept remote control design needed to be evaluated for the ergonomics of the proposed design. A pencil sketch had been developed to provide an overall layout and basic shape for the remote control which was intended to be used to control a small television. It had all the usual buttons and would be made as a two piece item with a front and rear moulding. The functional aspects of the controller were reasonably well defined as was the overall shape but how would it feel in the palm of the hand and how easy would the buttons be to use with just one hand? A physical prototype was required, preferably made from plastic to simulate the final item.

The concept shape was quickly converted into a 3D solid model with a CAD system and building in the required detail. The process of converting the 3D design into a plastic prototype couldn't have been simpler. Just export an STL file from the CAD system and open with the printer software, orientate as required and press print. The 3D printer built the part in ABS plastic layer by layer capturing the detail of the original CAD design and producing a robust detailed plastic model in less than 2 hours without even leaving our office.

The front and rear halves were married together and there we had it - 3D printing had enabled us to have the remote control in our hands within half a working day. We held the remote in our hands and simulated using the buttons as you would if using a TV. This quickly revealed that the controls which would be used most often, the channel up and down keys were too low down on the remote to easily reach with your thumb. We also noted that we hadn't left enough space for a power on/off button.

A few minutes later and the button positions had been moved and the 3D printing process was underway again. Since the back cover hadn't changed we chose to 3D print the front cover only. The 3D printer operated quietly in the corner of the office and while further design iterations were considered the plastic part was being printed without requiring any intervention from us.

The 3D printing process had provided us with our second rapid prototype by mid afternoon and this iteration proved much better suited to the task being far better ergonomically designed. How much would the design changes we had made have cost if we had not made them until later in the design process?

While 3D printing offers businesses cost savings by making prototypes cheaper to produce the biggest benefit of bringing rapid prototyping in house is the speed at which design iterations can be performed and then verified by printing physical models of the design. Getting a quality product to market quickly is becoming more and important in this competitive climate - 3D printing might just give you the competitive edge you need.