4 Steps to Using Additive Manufacturing During Development
By: Dave Burrell
Senior Consultant, Product Design
25th October 2017
Recently, there has been a seemingly endless hype about using 3D printing or ‘Additive Manufacture’ (AM) for product development and ‘real’ parts. However, often people can be either over-optimistic about what is possible and end up very disappointed; or, perhaps worse, their perception of capability is far less than what can actually be achieved and they could have pushed their dreams that much further.
There are also many types of AM out there as well as organisations who can provide different solutions for you, whether it be the finish that you require, the material, the accuracy or the even size that you want. Keeping up with what is currently available and what the possibilities and new developments are is a constant catch up exercise because things move so quickly.
The desire from customers to have something that looks really cutting edge with a ‘next week’ delivery and a keen price is vital to achieving a happy client. These steps will set out how to achieve this by using varying levels of AM.
Step 1: Visualise with 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD)
Obviously, using 3D CAD provides a model which helps to picture the resultant part, but there is nothing quite like an actual part to physically hold and feel to truly understand if it will do the job in terms of having a good human interface.
Step 2: Create simple parts with a desktop Fused Deposition Material (FDM) printer
So to begin, create simple parts printed on a desktop FDM. This can be created in a matter of hours and can cost next to nothing. This does not need to be highly accurate or even a smooth surface (like you might get from a Stereolithographic or Digital Light Processing part), or even hand-finished through rubbing down and painting (which can be very expensive), it just needs to be representative in its form.
Step 3: Iterate the part design process until perfection
Move forward with small design tweaks and maybe make another rough model before starting to spend money externally. Of course, at this stage, you can iterate the design as many times as you like as you only need to print the bits that you are focussing on. Once you have gone through the early learning curve on the part, the next stage is to get the real model made for the customer.
At this point, the decision has to be on just what the customer’s expectations are, what they want to do with it and how they would like to take it forward. These decisions will basically determine just how much money you are going to have to spend, and are worth in-depth discussions with the customer.
The 4 Steps in Action
This handheld part (pictured) is made from a very tough and durable Nylon material and then smoothed using ceramic media in a vibrobowl. It is not a perfect finish but is perfectly good enough, tough enough and professional looking enough for the client to do customer trials with. There is no need to go to the lengths of having something made in expensive resin material which would not be so strong anyway.
And in the end, like most things in life, the result of what you get really depends on how you approach it. There are many ways to skin a cat but it will come down to a question of ‘horses for courses’.
Think hard about what it is you are trying to make and what you want to achieve, setting out to accomplish this with the best tools for the job. Also, don’t be afraid to explore the cheaper options along the development process before putting funds into an agreed set of specifications.