An increasing number of observers and industry insiders are now stating that we’re officially approaching a shift in global manufacturing. 3D printing and other new manufacturing techniques have moved far beyond expressions of creativity and novelty. They’re now impacting the manufacturing sector as a whole, although creating prototypes using these new technologies is perhaps the greatest revolution. The move towards rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing is apparently showing no signs of slowing down.
Fast prototyping is accelerating time to market
One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is true rapid prototyping. Companies have to figure out how to work out design flaws in products, determine how to mass produce them, and test initial prototypes to make sure they meet industry standards. This is why traditional product development is a long, complicated process.
It also explains why 3D rapid prototyping has become commonplace. Rapid prototyping allows companies to create working 3D models of designs for user testing, industrial testing, and engineering evaluation. If a company doesn’t have that expertise, they can outsource the work to prototyping companies to create the 3D printed prototypes instead. This can take weeks or months off the product development process while saving money as well. Pre-production tooling and low initial rate production runs are eliminated.
Rapid manufacturing has another benefit for developers and inventors. They’re more likely to make a sale if they can demonstrate a working prototype, and additive manufacturing makes affordable production runs of a single item possible. Nor does the would-be business owner need to buy an expensive machine tool to do so since they can outsource the production to a rapid prototyping company that takes jobs from a variety of firms.
It’s also reducing costs across the board
Rapid prototyping allows manufacturers to do away with many secondary tooling processes. If you can 3D print the product, then injection molding may no longer be necessary in some cases. However, there are still some cases where injection molding is better. 3D printing still has some issues with machine throughput and limited material options, which is why most prototyping companies like 3ERP will offer more than one option, depending on the client’s needs. 3ERP have a range of printing options which include FDM, SLA, SLS and SLM, so it’s essential that you plan the process with experts like those on their team first to ensure you use the right method and materials.
Because 3D printers are fast expanding into printing materials like metal, more companies can reduce their need for secondary tooling for metal assemblies as well. CNC machining and cutting operations are still being used by most prototyping services, but there could be a time in the future when you’ll be able to 3D print large metal assemblies without any intermediary steps once you’ve finalized the data file and testing it in simulations.
Another benefit of just-in-time manufacturing enabled by direct digital manufacturing is the reduction in inventory and inventory management. And since nearly everything made by these new manufacturing technologies is per design, you don’t end up transporting and storing defective items, much less having to check the quality of everything and disposing of the scrap.
Rapid prototyping as an eco-friendly solution
3D printing and other rapid prototyping technologies are being driven by environmental considerations. If you can quickly print the prototypes and determine what works and what doesn’t, you don’t invest resources in large production runs that no one wants. You only print the plastic or metal used in the final product, so there’s less raw material wasted.
In the case of stereolithography, the part model is built on a platform of liquid polymer cured by an ultraviolet laser. The unused liquid can drain out through holes in the model and be reused. The only material that might be wasted is found in the small mechanical supports needed to build the part in liquid before it is removed from the chemical vat.
Another benefit is making small lot manufacturing affordable. You can make items just in time for demand, and you won’t waste time and effort making a larger production lot that may not sell. In all cases, additive manufacturing technology makes it easier for companies to appeal to consumers whose environmental and ethical concerns affect their purchasing decisions.
Improvements in quality control depending on the technology
Depending on the rapid prototyping technology made, you can get production grade quality from the get-go, and the quality of these rapid prototyping methods may equal or exceed what you would get from an assembly line or job shop.
For example, SLA printed parts can have tolerances of 0.1 millimeters. Laser sintering can create rapid prototypes made from materials like nylon and carbon fibered polymers and do so to the same 0.10 millimeter tolerances. Fusion deposition modeling creates very strong parts with tolerances of 0.25 millimeters. This is very good quality compared to other rapid prototyping operations, and you avoid the potentially bad batches created by mistakes as you figure out the right tooling for creating a new product. There are 3D printing machines that can create parts with plus or minus 0.1 millimeters and create part walls as thin as 0.6 millimeters. And these tight tolerances are constant across even complex geometric assemblies. Furthermore, the additive manufacturing processes remove sources of variation like shrinkage in casting.
Rapid prototyping helps deliver production grade product to small businesses
Whether it is a large Fortune 500 company outsourcing prototype creation to a small local manufacturer or someone who created the design on their home computer, the end results are only limited by the functionality of the design software, the performance of the 3D printers used, and the limits of the material itself.
Direct demand manufacturing makes it possible for personalized products to be created, enabling many artisans to expand their offerings at less risk. And they can order the manufacture of low-volume runs that meet the same quality standards as mass-produced items without paying a much higher per-item price they would if they asked a contract manufacturer to set up an equivalent production run but divide the price per item by the size of the much smaller lot.
Whether you call the technologies that enable rapid prototyping e-manufacturing, rapid manufacturing, direct digital manufacturing, solid freeform manufacturing or additive manufacturing, these new technologies are rapidly altering the manufacturing industry.