A number of applications are well-suited to the capabilities of 3D printing/additive manufacturing (3DP/AM). We’ll look at several in this series. This time we look at using additive manufacturing for prototypes.
Prototyping was the original reason behind the development of 3D printing/additive manufacturing (3DP/AM). Back in the 1980s, both Chuck Hull (3D Systems) and Scott Crump (Stratasys) were engineers who were frustrated with how long it took to get a prototype made. The typical timeline was four weeks.
Each took a different approach to solving this problem. Crump developed fused-deposition modeling based on the idea of depositing layers as you would with a glue gun. Hull worked with photosensitive resins to develop stereolithography. Both managed to reduce the time it took to get a prototype from weeks to days.
For prototyping, 3DP/AM can make nearly any geometry; enables the engineer to examine form, fit, and function; and deliver good realism for customer examination. Depending on the complexity of the part, prototypes can be made in minutes or take a day or two. Engineers can use in-house 3DP/AM systems, which can reduce cost as well as time.
Prototyping offers a number of benefits. 3DP/AM adds to those benefits because this technology can make nearly any geometry; as is often said, complexity is free with this technology.
A major benefit with 3DP/AM is using it to fail quickly and cheaply. Being able to prototype a part in hours or a day lets users weed out the approaches that don’t work and focus on the ones that do with minimal investment in material and time.
Prototyping offers an opportunity to determine design requirements more accurately.
A prototype lets the designer examine both foreseen and unforeseen technical challenges.
A prototype can also be useful in resolving conflicts. Feeling and seeing a product in action gives more information about the design.