In the business of product design, success isn’t just about the end product. Too many projects fail before they ever get into a customer’s hands because of problems in development from design to manufacturing.
Companies that want to find their competitive advantage in crowded markets need a streamlined, yet reliable, approach to their product development that enables them to bring products to market faster and with fewer surprises.
One of the fastest growing trends driving successful product teams is the emergence and accessibility of 3D printing.
How 3D Printing is Reducing Development Time
As the current design and engineering landscape is obsessing over speed to market, 3D printing provides unique solutions to critical production steps.
Over the last several decades, there’s been a notable shift in many industries with companies sending their manufacturing and its precursory steps overseas for cheaper costs.
As a trade off, the cheaper manufacturing costs from overseas operations also incur much longer turnaround times for developing and testing prototypes. What they gain in savings, they sacrifice in delay.
These processes become dependent on longer shipping times, added import and export costs, and longer lead times.
3D printing has introduced the significant ability to rapidly produce accurate prototypes cheaply and domestically. The result is a workable part that can be interacted with for the testing and feedback that strong products need to improve.
This is also tied into the strategic movement away from reliance on cheap labor. Leading product companies are now investing in technology as it makes remarkable innovation and progress more attainable.
It also enables companies working with particularly complex designs to expedite their production because of the integration of CAD designs and 3D printing.
With the inclusion of 3D printing into the design and engineering process, product teams are able to progress from CAD to production with speed and efficiency like never before.
Access to Leading 3D Printing Tech Keeps Getting Easier
In the world of technology, 3D printing is still relatively young. This means that new advancements are constantly being rolled out, leaving previous models behind fairly quickly.
For companies that are built around products, ownership is a difficult expense to accommodate, especially with the rapidly progressing nature of the technology.
While some larger companies do have the bandwidth to purchase and operate their own 3D printing labs, many smaller to medium sized companies choose to partner with a design lab (like Creative Mechanisms) that specializes in 3D printing and rapid prototyping.
This comes with a few very specific benefits that give those small to medium sized businesses a stronger ability to compete on a broader scale:
- Engineering firms that specialize in 3D printing bear the cost of keeping up with the advances in 3D printing technology.
- Such firms also provide immersive expertise in operating CAD and 3D printing technology.
- Outsourcing gives you access to an entire engineering team for less than it would cost to hire an individual with comparable expertise
3D Printing Continues to Grow More Capable
The more 3D printing technology continues to advance, it’s clear that it’s no fad. It’s a trend that is set to continue for the long haul.
3D printing is not just a tool for rapid prototyping of models and knicknacks. Recently, companies that need more complex end pieces have been using the innovative capabilities of 3D printing to produce end use parts.
Even in the instances where end use parts are not possible, 3D printing can produce models that accurately simulate the capabilities of the end use of your parts. In addition to the speed and in+novation 3D printing makes possible, it also enables more reliable prototype testing.
Read: The Difference Between 3D Printing and Injection Molding
What to Expect from a 3D Printing Partner
If you’re interested in finding an engineering firm to partner with for your 3D printing needs, what should you look for and what should you expect?
There are several kinds of firms you can look for, and we’ll provide our two cents on the benefits and limitations of each.
1. Printing-Only Vendors
For those who are unsure about the place of 3D printing in their product engineering process, there are low-cost providers who can provide you with access to 3D printing if you bring your own CAD designs.
The main upside of this approach is the lower cost barrier to use 3D printing, but businesses that go this route run a few specific risks:
- Mistakes between the CAD preparation and printing your iterations
- Lack of user knowledge of how your printed designs fit into the broader manufacturing picture
The bottom line is that working with a printing-only is cheaper, but it is innately risky. Any time you work with a partner that doesn’t have an eye on the broader manufacturing process, it introduces new opportunities for disruption in your overall product goals.
2. DFM Engineering Firms
Design for Manufacturing (DFM) engineering firms take a broader approach to their 3D printing process. The DFM philosophy looks at every step of the engineering process through its effect on the critical manufacturing step.
Its aim is to anticipate problems, reduce costs, and identify innovative opportunities.
The result is that while they may not be as low-cost as a printing only vendor, they provide a premium in both ease of process and reliability of outcome.
A simple way of looking at it is that a printing only vendor provides you with a printed part. A DFM printing partner provides you with a confident prototype that you can take to manufacturing with peace of mind.
Working with Creative Mechanisms
We at Creative Mechanisms are on the forefront of the Design for Manufacturing community, designing innovative products for a wide range of applications.
If you’d like to schedule a free product review with our engineering team, we’re here to provide feedback and insight that will help get and keep your profitable product on track.