Increasing Competitive Advantage with 3D Digital Printing

Contributed by David Slocum

Reducing schedules, working more hours, and squeezing the last drop of blood out of talented people is the norm in product development.  So, when someone says “I can have a model of your product in 24 hours,” you have the right to be skeptical.  In fact, experience shows that when 3D digital printing (Originally known as stereo lithography) is applied properly within a product development strategy it can result in solid advantages in several key areas.

  • Idea to Concept
  • Getting it Right
  • Reality, not Virtual Reality

Idea to Concept:

Whether partnering with a qualified industrial design firm or maturing your concepts in-house, you should seriously consider using 3D printing as a tool to accelerate early phase concept development.  Even prior to 3D printing you might consider other methods of modeling to quickly mature your ideas from one iteration to the next.  This could include models crafted using, foam, wax, or even clay. The importance of moving from a creative 3D rendering to an actual model cannot be overstated.  The product development “junk yard” is littered with failed prototypes that were produced using 3D renderings alone.

Getting it Right:

Getting it right prior to 3D printing will drive you to an optimized solution faster.  In developing your best form factor it must support the constraints of the internal componants of the design and the constraints dictated by reliability and performance.  For instance, designers of mobile computing devices (Including your mobile phone) will allow space for swelling of the lithium ion battery that takes place during normal operation.  Invest the time to work with your cross functional teams to be sure that the internal design envelope has been optimized and that all things have been considered prior to 3D printing.

Reality, not Virtual Reality:

A gorgeous design concept and 3D model by itself does not necessarily represent reality.  Once you have “nailed” the right form factor consider other design criteria that bring a dose of reality to your design prior to the detailed (And costly) design phase.

  • Appearance (Color, texture, presence)
  • Weight (Overall weight and balance)
  • Feature placement

The toothbrush circa 1975 was a flat featureless piece of plastic with a single color – the choice was easy.  Now, the expectations of design are so pervasive today that your choice of toothbrushes includes, complex 3D shapes, mixed materials, over molding, multiple colors, all perfectly balanced.  Today, the battle for retail shelf space and your purchase decision over a toothbrush takes on new dimensions.

Finally, consider feature placement in your design.  If your design requires a touch screen, gesture areas, switches, or integrated attachments, your decision on placement of these critical features and the related user experience is just as important as the primary form factor.

For more on digital printing, please follow the link below and note specific information regarding modeling, printing and additive processes.

David Slocum is an interim executive with  20 years management experience in Operations, Product Development, and Quality Assurance within  consumer technology  and industrial technology companies in the US and China.

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