From the initial inception to the final product, product development inevitably exists across every industry. Traditional product design techniques can’t keep up with today’s highly competitive pace. At this point, many industry giants gradually discover the advantages of 3D printing and successfully adapt it to fit in with the needs of market changes. This article will probe into how 3D printing industry boosts product development and some actual application examples.

3D Printing in the Product Development Process

The product development process mainly divides into 5 parts, namely concept exploration, design, prototyping, pre-production, and production. 3D printing takes part in each product stage and plays an essential role. Here we are going to mainly focus on the design, prototyping, and pre-production.

Design Stage

At In the design stage, the R&D team will bring the design concepts into actual design models in the best possible version of geometry to serve the new product’s function. From CAD to physical objects in no time, 3D printing as an innovative manufacturing method enables engineers and customers to picture detailed and complex geometries unlimited by conventional design-for-manufacture guidelines. While utilizing 3D printing, engineers, and designers can get the most cost-effective and rapid means for prototyping 3D models for their final products.

Prototyping Stage

Traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding and casting is only cost-effective only in the mass production of fixed-geometry products. Before the final geometry of the new product comes out, invests shall make no sense especially for manufacturers who want to create customized models. However, 3D printing unleashes the possibility to let them to repeatedly test and create variable product designs at a relatively low cost. The flexibility of 3D printing allows designers to modify their product design to the most look-like result. With a wide range of materials available in 3D printing, from the soft to the rigid, test prototypes can be created with a smooth finish and exact quality which is even qualified to final functional component parts.

Pre-production Stage

Pre-production is still in the planning stage where designers and engineers can get feedback from customers early on. More modifications and adjustments from customer trial and in-house testing can be immediately made on the new product for 3D printing makes it all possible. When the product model finally meets the aesthetics feel and quality standard, the product development team can move on to the production phase.

Advantages of 3D Printing in Product Development

1. Faster Supply Chain and Shorter Preparation Process

With 3D printing technology at hand, industrial manufacturers, small companies can spend less time on mapping out the concept to production or from order to shipping products to clients.

Designers won’t have to take their 2D sketches to mold service providers and attempt different designing solutions to produce them. With a 3D printed prototype identical in dimension and properties to an end product, it’s much easier to communicate as well, as validate the concept. Sharing this suggestion is less complicated with online supplies of ready-to-print documents enabling every person to rapidly publish a functioning model or a part of the model that they need at the moment.

2. Fewer production constraints and higher flexibility

3D printing promotes product design and development by providing higher flexibility and overcoming production constraints. Some precise parts can’t be manufactured without additive manufacturing technology, others are simply cheaper to fabricate this way. Moreover, a multifunctional 3D printer is capable of multi-material 3D printing and different additive manufacturing techniques. For instance, Creality CP-01 with its interchangeable tool heads allows users to do 3D print, CNC carving, and laser engraving. Product development can be conducted in a much more flexible way, allowing designers to test and improve before mass production.

3. Reduced cost and wastefulness

3D printing gives financial savings both in time and money which enables firms to offer many affordable prices for their items. 3D printers only use a specific amount of filament they need for producing final prints and their support structures, which can be thawed back right into filament rather than ending up being waste. By the way, a desktop 3D printer such as Creality Ender-5 requires even less power than large industrial 3D printers. 

4. High-level customization and less manufacturing

At present, customers often value quality over quantity. Therefore, they favor buying items customized to fit their needs rather than stuffing their pockets and homes with impersonal scrap. 3D printing offers companies with ways to attract attention from customers and even give new life to existing well-known products. In this situation, 3D printing increases item growth by making their designs and functionality more personal to specific customer demands and their appearance more attractive to kids, geeks, and collectors.

5. Complete in-house product development

By having a 3D printer, companies can remove the intermediary from their quick prototyping cycles as well as make functional models of their products in-house. It allows them to have control on the digital fabrication process and materials, and also allows them to immediately adjust and customize their products based on market needs.

Actual Cases of 3D Printing in Product Development

Automotive industry

Volkswagen utilizes 3D printing to make tools, jigs, and fixtures that are required to assemble cars, greatly reducing tooling costs and lead times. Previously, the needed tools take days even a week to be prototyped and produced by the outside sourced suppliers. Things have all changed with a 3D printer, which helps Volkswagen reduce time on tool development by 95% and save about €150,000 investment in tool development.

As it is available to a larger audience, more and more modern product designers will begin to utilize 3D printing in product design and development before mass production. 3D printing is going to be the ideal way for concept exploration, rapid prototyping, functional testing, and customization.