3D printter
An example of a 3D printer printing an object.

5 Ways You Can Use 3D Printing to Create a Prototype

The article discusses in which way you can use 3D printing to create a prototype of your product.

3D printing is quickly changing the manufacturing industry all over the globe. Not only is it more affordable than ever to create prototypes, but there is also a greater level of flexibility we haven’t seen before. This model of building products is starting to gain more attention, and it’s expected to be the new normal in the near future.

How exactly is 3D printing used to create prototypes? This guide will discuss 5 ways this method differs from the manufacturing of the past, and how these are changes for good. As product design and development moves towards 3D printing, we can expect to see these transformations and improvements.

1. Better Design

In the past, prototypes were used as a way to test designs. While that’s still true, there is significantly more room for flexibility at this stage than ever before thanks to 3D printing. The traditional manufacturing process required distinct stages. These stages all relied on digital models, and these came with limitations.

First, the prototype wasn’t able to be made with similar models or capabilities of the final product. This meant there were fewer opportunities for accurate design and testing. Now, the digital thread can be used throughout the entire process, and more accurate, well-designed models are available thanks to 3D printing.

2. Manufacturing as a Service

While we’ve recently come to know the term SaaS (software as a service), it looks like we need to say hello to another term MaaS. Manufacturing as a service is something that bloomed thanks to 3D printing. We are seeing companies with infrastructure built to support multiple design and production efforts for several clients, all while using the same 3D printing technology.

Companies with rapid tooling services are becoming the new normal. There are a lot of resources online that can help you understand better the process and find out more about it. Manufacturers will have quicker upgrades and a greater ability to produce quality work without changing their business model. MaaS is just another way 3D printing has made manufacturing more accessible.

3. Less Waste

Everyone today is concerned about their carbon footprint and reducing their impact on the environment, especially manufacturing companies. Governments across the globe have begun to implement stricter laws about waste and materials. Luckily, changes in efficiency have led to leaner initiatives that reduce overall waste and create more usable resources.

Today, the average waste from a traditional manufacturing is 21% of the materials. Not only does 3D printing reduce overall waste of materials to below 10%, but it also reduces carbon emissions substantially. These are improvements we can all, as a global community, get behind. While the majority of 3D printing today is used only for prototypes, this will hopefully continue to expand into more comprehensive manufacturing efforts until it’s the main source of products.

4. Higher Utilization

Manufacturing operations are not known as the most efficient. In the USA alone, manufacturing utilization is only 75%. That means one-fourth of the materials and processes are not being used efficiently. This is because traditional methods of production include things like injection molding or die casting. These use specialized systems that lack the versatility of 3D printing.

On the other hand, 3D printers can print up to 20 different types of products. It can also print them rapidly one after the next without needing to switch systems. This is a big improvement on the traditional model and one that increases the overall utilization rate for the entire manufacturing industry.

5. Encourage Innovation

Finally, one of the most important ways 3D printing improves the creation of prototypes is through the introduction of further innovation. While in the traditional process different parts are assembled together to create a whole, 3D printing removes these constraints. 3D printers can build complex and valuable products as a whole without needing any additional design elements.

Because there are fewer constraints to the design projects, engineers and designers alike are able to think freely. We are seeing how companies around the globe are building products that push the boundaries on what we’ve seen before. We are building a future of complex solutions with a single machine.

One way we’re seeing this impact the entire population is through the printing of medical devices. From titanium skull plates to other medical breakthroughs, we are seeing new technology spring from 3D printing every day thanks to its ability to create prototypes without restraints.

Overcoming Challenges

While there are many improvements to the current system thanks to 3D printing, we still have to acknowledge the new challenges. Most notably, there is a higher cost for materials and equipment that is keeping 3D printing from becoming standard in manufacturing operations around the globe.

Despite these costs, technology pushes forward. 3D printing is being used around the world to create new prototypes that benefit everyone. As more companies look into this type of prototype development, we can only expect to see more improvements in this process.

Wendy Dessler is outreach manager for Outreachmama.

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