Machine Design

3D printer helps design firm optimize products for people with disabilities

Blue Sky Designs, Minneapolis, Minn., extensively prototypes the products it develops for people with disabilities. In the past, the firm used blocks of wood or other materials to determine, for instance, the length of a mechanism arm, says founder Diane Goodwin. But this approach was expensive and squelched the company’s creativity — the firm could not afford the high costs of exploring numerous concepts. Consequently, Blue Sky turned to building prototypes additively with a Dimension 3D printer.
      The 3D printer let the firm easily build several lengths and sizes of arms for end-users to try. After settling on the optimal size, the company next explored shape. The firm printed several different components, evaluating both the aesthetics and ergonomics of the prototype. This helped Bly Sky develop a device people found would work well and feel good.
      The 3D printer also let the company more easily consider factors such as manufacturability, assembly, and part costs. Initially, one new product in development included a mechanism held in place by several tiny, triangle-shaped pieces. A manufacturer quoted $0.45 to produce each piece. Blue Sky then tried printing the pieces in a “tree” form with the Dimension 3D Printer, making them into a single part. The single part cost only $0.49, thus slashing Blue Sky’s part and assembly costs. 

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TAGS: 3D Printing
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