Prototyping Through 3D Printing
Your long awaited critical part has arrived. It’s the only hold-up in introducing your new product line and gearing it up for manufacturing. The product is assembled, and to everyone’s dismay the critical part doesn’t fit correctly due to a design flaw.
Your customers are irate and threatening to switch vendors. You’re stuck with unrecoverable tooling costs. Your staff is busy updating resumes and/or booking one-way non-refundable tickets to Tierra del Fuego.
Worse yet, you don’t have the bandwidth as a company to afford a design team, and therefore you winged it, trusting an overworked staff with insufficient tools and time to verify the design. You can hear the footsteps approaching your office. Tierra del Fuego seems like an increasingly reasonable option. Are there any package deals available?
All of this chaos could have been avoided with the use of rapid prototyping. 3D printing has reached the level of speed and sophistication that allows finished prototype parts to be completed from a CAD drawing within hours. The reduced printing times and costs, as well as a useful variety of printing materials, have made prototyping through 3D printing the smart choice for many manufactured parts and assemblies.
I’ll Know It When I See It
A complicated assembly can involve many specification drawings and include a vast number of assumptions on tolerances and design needs. It’s possible to end up with directly competing assumptions on tolerances and process latitude, ending up with perfectly fine individual parts that fail when put together as a system.
Anyone who has worked in a manufacturing facility in the final process stages knows the joys of discovering that all the upstream components have consumed all of your tolerance and then some. Good luck fitting that 1.2 mm peg into a 1.0 mm hole.
Even when the tolerances aren’t consumed in manufacturing processes, there are multiple opportunities for miscommunication or misunderstanding that can doom a manufactured part. Prototyping helps to spot potential errors before they can spiral into costly errors or cycle time delays. In this case, we mean to literally spot errors thanks to a tangible product in hand.
Early stage design iterations benefit greatly from efficient prototyping. Designers can experiment with variations and check their effectiveness in parallel instead of making serial adjustments to a design while racking up time and tooling costs. You can run side-by-side testing of different designs, set up the design of experiments (DOE) testing, and make decisions based on data and measurements instead of imagination and assumptions. In the end, you’ll know your design works because you can literally see it and verify it.
3D Printing—The Great Enabler
Design groups have always tried to strike the best balance between improvements on paper and the need for early stage validation. Companies with fewer people or tools to do the job in-house can err toward caution based on economics. “Are we confident enough in this design that it’s worth spending the money for a prototype at this stage or does it need more work to justify that cost?”
Unfortunately, too much time can be spent putting complementary pieces and finishing touches on a fundamentally flawed design. In that case, you’ve traded savings in tooling costs for a potentially fatal delay in product introduction time.
Thanks to the improvements in 3D printing technology, it’s now simple, fast, and cost-effective to test the basic design as early as possible. Significant changes to the finished product design can be verified and incorporated quickly.
3D printing also provides a huge advance in the testing of tolerances. It combines the precision of a molded or forged part using customized tooling with the speed of simple visual prototypes made of everyday materials (cardboard, foam, clay, etc.). You can have the prototype in hand and evaluated in less time than it takes to get approval to proceed on a traditional molded or forged prototype.
It’s easy to verify that the 3D-printed prototype correctly reflects the proper specifications you need for incorporation into a final assembly—and if it doesn’t, you can change it with an adjustment in a drawing and a new rapid prototype instead of racking up a new and possibly prohibitive set of tooling costs.
In short, a contract manufacturer with 3D printing capability can reduce your product design cycle time to a mere fraction of its previous value. Faster to market equals increased likelihood of sales.
Prototyping Prevents Problems
Smartrend Manufacturing Group can help you reduce your cycle time and bring your concept to life with efficient design services and rapid prototyping. Our engineering staff will work with your team to analyze your needs, work out the critical design characteristics, create the necessary drawings, and translate them into prototypes. Once your prototypes are verified, we offer a wide range of manufacturing options through our network of qualified international factories.
Consider SMG’s design and rapid prototyping capabilities when reviewing your outsourced manufacturing needs. We can prevent potentially critical errors and save you lots of money in potential tooling costs, lost sales opportunities, missed product windows—and even those last-minute plane tickets to Tierra del Fuego. There’s never any discount for the desperate traveler.