It’s not manufacturing that 3D printing technology should disrupt—it’s habitual thinking. 3D printing can change the habits we get into with design and prototyping, as well as production, and how fast we get to market.
Habitual thinking is what leads engineers to specify 500 prototype parts when 10 or 1 will suffice until the next design iteration. Habitual thinking is what leads us to specify the production of 10,000 parts when perhaps only a couple hundred, or less, are needed. In the past, specifying 10,000 may have been the lowest cost choice. Now, with 3D printing, those numbers can, and should be, different.
Noted Technology Consultant Todd Grim, “Instead of looking for 3D printing to be a replacement for something that’s already working, start with a clean slate. Look at it and say, with no expectations and no requirements, how should we develop this product? How many do we really need in the first year, second year, third year? What is it that we really need? What are the material properties we really need? And then, see if additive manufacturing gives any value or benefits that other processes can’t.”
These comments came from a recent interview I had with Todd. Another interesting point, along the lines of habitual thinking, involves the current idea of using today’s 3D printing technology for manufacturing. It can be done, but the technology was not specifically designed for making thousands of the same part over and over again. The 3D printers available today were originally designed for prototyping, to shrink the time it took to outsource this task. Now some 3d printing systems can be used in manufacturing type applications, the dental industry is an example, but they are not optimized for manufacturing.
For a general manufacturing 3D printer—“we still need time for it to happen,” continued Grimm. To truly suit the needs of manufacturing, as we know it today, designers of 3D printers may need to go back to the drawing board. “For the most part, no one has come out with a new platform that uses their core technology that is built from the ground up to be a manufacturing device. If we want to move into production applications, it probably would behoove the OEMs to start with a fresh sheet of paper and build the thing from the ground up with the eye towards repeatability in terms of quality using topnotch components, but design that whole machine such that they can leverage what those topnotch components can give them.”
Continued Grimm, “Manufacturers’ are looking for something that you turn it on and what was made yesterday is what you’re going to get today.”
To achieve this goal, Grimm notes that designers will need to start fresh, and “start with the idea that everything you put down is with the purposes of improving quality, throughput and repeatability. So a specific manufacturing machine (as in the dental industry) is doable, but a general one, we still need time for it to happen.”
Another point about habitual thinking is how we justify the purchase of a unit, focusing on cost rather than the benefits 3D printing technology can deliver. “If you’re just trying to do the dollar analysis, it’s tough to make the math work,” said Bruce Bradshaw, Stratasys Ltd. “I can say that across the board with our customers, whether it’s the FDM side or the polyjet side, they experience significant improvement in time to market with their products using 3D printing technology.
“We see it help our customers bring products to market faster. Plus, it improves the quality of their design. I hear this all the time. I talk to somebody that uses a service bureau and they get a prototype of their design several weeks into the design process and inevitably they’ll say, ‘Wow, had I had this in my hands a month ago, I would have changed XYZ. But it’s too late and I have a deadline and I can’t change my design now because it’s too late in the design process.’ It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words; I say a part is worth a thousand pictures.”
Whether it’s design, manufacturing, or justification, let 3D printing disrupt your habitual thinking.