The Business Case For 3D Printing Prototypes

If practice makes perfect, then prototyping should lead to the perfect final product. But how does your business select the best-fit technology to prototype?

Dozens of options are available to choose
among when making a prototype. We’re going to explore why businesses are
choosing 3D printing for their prototypes.

From Concept To Creation

Prototyping typically involves a number of
stages, each requiring a physical product made to meet the needs of a
go-to-market step of a new design and subject to an array of testing

These, broadly, include:

Assembly / Fit
Life Test

From a rough conceptual creation that prioritizes speed and appearance, a prototype is necessary to bring a design from idea to the physical. The earliest stages of prototyping often require the fastest turnaround in fabrication, as getting an actual object in hand is the only way to gauge viability for product development.

As each stage of prototyping progresses,
though, needs change. The prototypes must become less rough around the edges as
those edges will be subject to testing for fit, functionality, mechanical
properties, and other physical needs.

A final prototype may often be visually if not
tactilely indistinguishable from an end-use product, which can help in showing
potential investors or creating marketing materials for a new product even
before mass production ramps up.

Time-To-Market With Rapid Prototyping

3D printing is a young technology suite, and
one with many names. While it is increasingly referred to as additive
manufacturing today, with end-use part production possible, most notably for
low-volume or spare parts manufacture, the technology’s first nomenclature in
the 1980s was synonymous with its initial primary use: rapid prototyping.

When you speak to someone who’s been in this
industry since its early days, they may still naturally refer to “rapid
prototyping” or “RP” more often than “3D printing” or “additive manufacturing”
through many years of ingrained habit.

Decades later, rapid prototyping remains the
primary application for 3D printing technologies across the world.

What is it about 3D printing that adds the
“rapid” to “prototyping”? Digitization.

Taking a 3D model directly to a 3D printer for
fabrication speeds the process of prototyping. Digital models can be made quite
quickly using a variety of 3D printing technologies, removing the needs for
many steps in other, more traditional fabrication technologies. No tooling is
needed, for example, nor is there a waiting period while molds are made and
filled. It’s also much faster and more precise than...