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May 20

3D Printing & Product Design: A New Mindset

3D Printing Helps Bring Superior Products to Market, Faster

3D Printing and additive manufacturing refer to processes that allow the "building" of objects, layer by layer, from CAD data. Accomplished through a variety of different processes, technology is already well-used in many sectors including transportation, health care, military and education, with uses ranging from building concept models, functional prototypes, factory tooling (such as molds and robot-arm ends), and even finished goods (such as aircraft internal components). In particular, the medical and aerospace industries have developed more advanced applications for 3D Printing, exemplifying the diverse ways in which this technology may be implemented.


The Fortus 900, a Stratasys Production Series Printer using FDM technology.


The Objet 500 Connex3, a Stratasys Production Series printer using Polyjet technology.




Since the inception of 3D printing in the late 1980's, a variety of processes have evolved and been implemented. Notably, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) and PolyJet have emerged as two processes allowing the integration of 3D printing into a multitude of industries, and a variety of applications within these industries. Improvements in both system reliability and part quality have allowed these technologies to be implemented for much more than simple product design and prototyping. Though the end result of both these processes is a palpable part or model, the different qualities of FDM or PolyJet technologies may be leveraged to suit different needs; as a result, 3D printing has found a role in almost every aspect of product development, from producing proof-of-concept models, to fully-functional prototypes, to low-volume production runs. Regardless of the technology, the implementation of 3D Printing in product development saves both time and costs over traditionally-employed methods, facilitating the creation of a superior product that reaches the consumer faster.

Using 3D Printing to Accelerate Product Design

The longer a product stays in the design cycle, the longer it takes to get to market, meaning less potential profit for the company. Time-to-market considerations were identified as the most critical daily issue facing respondents of a 2008 Product Design & Development readership poll. This group also said prototyping itself presented a time-to-market obstacle in 17% of product launches (Mantey. Product Design & Development. June 2008).

With increasing pressure to get products to market quickly, companies are compelled to make quick, yet accurate decisions during the conceptual stage of design. These decisions can affect the majority of total cost factors by establishing material selection, manufacturing techniques, and design longevity. 3D printing can optimize design processes for greatest potential profit by speeding iterations through product testing, whilst simultaneously allowing for testing of product function and material suitability.

Typical savings afforded by the utilization of 3D Printing over traditional product development processes.



Graco Inc. produces paint spraying and texturing equipment for professional use, and is an excellent example of how in-house 3D printing can reduce produce development time. Its engineers used a 3D printer to experiment with various paint gun and nozzle combinations to create the perfect spray pattern and volume. The resulting new spray-texture gun was based on functional prototypes 3D printed in ABS plastic. Graco estimates that 3D printing helped reduce development time by as much as 75%.

The journey from brilliant idea to successful product is fraught with hurdles. Analysis of new product development by Greg Stevens and James Burley in their oft-cited study “3,000 Raw Ideas = 1 Commercial Success” found that in addition to 3,000 raw ideas, a single successful innovation also requires 125 small projects, four major developments and 1.7 product launches (Burley & Stevens, Research Technology Management, June 1997). 3D printing capabilities starkly enhance the process by which companies determine whether proposed concepts or ideas are worth pursuing further and allocating developmental resources to. A highly iterative process can only happen in a feasible time frame when engineers can see quick feedback on design changes. This is simply not possible when considering traditional methods used during product development. In-house 3D printing eliminates shipping delays and reduces administrative slowdowns that can accompany sourcing prototypes from external services. With some systems, one in-house model per month may justify the cost of a printer, when compared to outsourcing model production.

However, in other settings, an in-house solution may not be feasible. In this instance, development teams may still benefit from the utilization of 3D printing through partnerships formed with design bureaus, such as the Innovation Centre here at Cimetrix. By involving a team of additive manufacturing specialists in product development, rather than simply sending CAD files off to be printed, the benefits are two-fold; design teams will still experience all of the benefits that come with using 3D printing, having access to 3D technologies are otherwise inaccessible, in addition receiving guidance from additive manufacturing specialists that help optimize the design and development process to suit 3D printing.


3D Printing Enables More Effective Design

3D printing can increase the chances of a successful product launch by enabling more thorough design evaluations and a more iterative process. At Henk and I, an industrial design firm in Johannesburg, South Africa, designers created and extensively tested a new kind of pool-cleaner motor that works well with low-flow, energy-saving filters. The high-torque design was the result of an iterative refinement process using the office 3D printer. In the functional testing stage, 30 3D printed prototypes cleaned pools in various regions worldwide. The result was a new pool cleaner model, the MX 8, for the firm’s client, Zodiac. According to Henk van der Meijden of Henk and I, the motor innovation would have been impossible without 3D printing.

3D Printing facilitates rapid creation of many design iterations, allowing comparison between designs and ultimately facilitating a more refined final product.



Successful product design requires review and input from many sources. By using 3D printing, design teams can review concepts earlier with others who may provide feedback. In-house 3D printing during product development offers unparalleled turnaround times, allowing for prompt feedback and faster creation of new design iterations. Whilst an in-house solution may not be possible for certain projects, utilizing 3D printing through a well-established a service bureau provides turnaround times much shorter than traditional methods that are outsourced. Regardless of how it is used, the incorporation of 3D printing into the design process facilitates faster, more efficient collaboration with engineering, marketing and, quality assurance divisions can empower designers to make adjustments throughout the design process and follow-up testing.

Faster turnaround is the only way to enable iterative discovery without lengthening the design process. 3D printing users in aerospace, automotive, industrial design and education have reported improvements of 43 to 96 percent in prototyping speed when switching from traditional methods to 3D printing (Stratasys, 2010-2012).Traditional prototyping methods include injection molding, CNC machining, metal machining and 2D laser cutting. In some cases, lead time required by a machine shop had been a major factor in slowing prototype creation. As the trend toward affordable 3D printing continues to result in more decentralized machines, for example in departments or individual cubicles, opportunities to speed the design cycle are multiplying.

An optimized design process with more prototype iterations can help minimize risk of product failure. Because 3D printers can produce models with fine feature details and the strength to withstand rigorous testing, designers can be more confident in their work.Making needed changes as early as possible saves money and time. 3D-printed models can give designers and engineers a thorough understanding of potential products earlier in the design process than other methods. As a result, this minimizes the risk that problems will go unnoticed until after committing to large-scale production, potentially saving months-years of development time, and thousands of dollars in development costs .

Acist Medical utilizes their Stratasys 3D Printers for everything from proof-of-concept, to functional prototyping and testing.



Acist Medical Systems designs and manufactures contrast- injection devices for cardiologists and radiologists. The company uses 3D printed parts in functional testing, fixtures, and end-use parts. In complex assemblies, Acist uses 3D printing to design plastic parts as efficiently as possible around machined parts, circuit boards, and integrated circuits. In one display unit, Acist reduced part count from 15 to 7 because, unlike traditional processes, 3D printing affords the ability to produce and evaluate complex part geometries. Furthermore, the company uses 3D printing to produce parts for functional testing; indeed, functional 3D-printed units are tested customer settings. Through the utilization of commercial-grade plastics, parts produced by 3D printing behave similarly to their mass-production counterparts, providing an accurate representation of the final, production part. Using and testing 3D printed parts in real world applications allows Acist to find and correct design problems, as well as incorporate true customer feedback, before committing to large-scale tooling for these products.

3D Printing Reduces Costs Associated with Product Design

The acquisition cost of a professional 3D printing system can be as little as $10,000 (7500???) (USD), which may surprise engineers and designers familiar with pricing for production level 3D printing systems. Annual operating costs are lower too; smaller 3D printers generally require no dedicated facility or special expertise to run, and the larger printers that do easily offset these costs with their diverse applications and contributions to product development. Furthermore, the creation of maker-spaces, or leasing options, may serve to mitigate the cost barriers that may have restricted adoption of 3D printing technology in the past. Other costs to consider are printer maintenance and material costs, which vary depending on use. When evaluating 3D printing systems, consider facilities requirements; expertise needed for system operation; accuracy, durability and size of models; available materials; speed; and, of course, cost. The desired application will help you determine the best system for you, but keep in mind that many users report discovering diverse uses after acquiring a 3D printing system. As an example, a system purchased for functional prototypes might prove useful for building manufacturing tools. Indeed, most users find the technology much more versatile than initially expected, and as a result, integrate 3D printing into numerous processes along during product design.

The RDASS 4 drone from Leptron, commercially feasible through the use of Stratasys 3D Printing during product development.



At Leptron, a developer of remotely piloted helicopters for law-enforcement, military and civilian use, engineers used a 3D printer to design, test and build a tiny surveillance drone. The RDASS 4 has eight modular fuselage components that can combine for various uses. Designing the complex drone and testing it to withstand crash landings required an iterative approach involving 200 design changes, including structural reinforcements and aerodynamic improvements. In-house 3D printing cut product- development costs for the RDASS 4 by 60% over injection molding. Further, the project may not have been commercially feasible without the six-month head start that 3D printing offered in getting the drone to market.3D printing provides a highly cost-efficient means of producing numerous design iterations and gaining immediate feedback throughout the critical beginning stages of the development process.

The ability to refine form, fit, and function quickly can significantly improve production costs and time to market. This
can create a distinct competitive advantage for those companies who include 3D printing as an integral part of their design process. As lower costs
continue to expand the 3D printing market, especially in small to medium-sized businesses or schools, the speed, consistency, accuracy, and low cost of these printers facilitates reduced time-to-market and maintain a competitive edge for these institutions.

Cimetrix Solutions has been Canada's authority on 3D printing for over 20 years, providing in-house solutions, as well as extensive design services, for the country's most innovative commercial and academic institutions. For additional information on how Cimetrix can bring your ideas to life, whether it is through our industry-leading Innovation Centre or an in-house solution, visit us at www.cimetrixsolutions.com.
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