Using 3-D Printing to Change Product Design

A few years ago, the concept of 3D printing seemed like a novelty at best, something confined to academic research labs and the workshops of hobbyists.  However, that impression is changing rapidly.  Although 3D printing is involved in a small segment of the corporate world with only 0.03% of the global manufacturing market using them,…

A few years ago, the concept of 3D printing seemed like a novelty at best, something confined to academic research labs and the workshops of hobbyists.  However, that impression is changing rapidly.  Although 3D printing is involved in a small segment of the corporate world with only 0.03% of the global manufacturing market using them, their popularity and marketability continues to rise.  Nowhere is their functionality more evident than in the field of product design.  There are several advantages to using 3D printing in this field.

  1. Cheap and Fast Prototypes – Because parts are manufactured on the spot, 3D printing allows companies to produce prototypes much more cheaply and efficiently than they could using traditional methods.
  2. Flexibility – 3D printing can create a massive range of designs, including some designs such as lattice structures that cannot be done through traditional manufacturing. This gives designers a lot more options.
  3. Better Focus – Because of the adaptability of 3D printing, designers have to worry less about the manufacturing process and more about functionality.
  4. Stronger and Lighter Materials – 3D printing has allowed manufacturers to create better, stronger, and more lightweight materials than ever before. These kinds of components will be able to revolutionize product design in time.

There are, however, some issues that any company using 3D printing must address.

  1. Initial Cost – 3D printers and the materials associated with them can result in high production costs, at least at this time.
  2. Lack of Knowledgeable Operators – While universities and training facilities are ramping up their instruction on this equipment, the technology is so new that it may take a few years to catch up.
  3. Lack of Guidelines – Because the technology is so new, there aren’t the same manufacturing guidelines that go with traditional techniques. While this is not necessarily a disastrous problem, it does require considerable oversight on the part of the company to ensure that quality standards are being met.
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