Prototyping is an essential step in the product development process. For close to three decades now, 3D print for prototyping has been widely used to create physical prototypes for visualization purposes, functional prototypes or testing. And the benefits are manifold.
Shorten product development cycle with 3D printed prototypes
3D print for prototyping has been used for the last 30 years, since it’s a fast and reliable way to produce multiple design iterations. This effectively minimizes risk and resource usage in the product development phase. But it also speeds up the decision-making process to have physical prototypes, especially when you are choosing between several different designs. For Finnish sports tech developer Polar Electro, this is especially true. The company’s product development team use 3D printing early on in the process to cut valuable time.
Having access to an inhouse 3D printer is generally better than outsourcing your 3D printing. Inhouse 3D printing can in many cases mean same day delivery, even of multiple iterations. But, even so, it is often a better choice to 3D print your prototypes rather than produce them with traditional methods such as CNC milling. The main reasons are cost efficiency and shorter lead times of parts.
3D printed prototypes allows for better decisions
Functional prototyping with 3D printing makes it easy for product development to create multiple iterations before proceeding into production tooling. This allows companies to avoid costly mistakes, before introducing new products to the market. Functional prototypes can be 3D printed with materials that are very similar to the end-use product materials. This means that functional prototypes can also be used in the testing phase of new product. Having access to physical prototypes also allows companies to discover errors or flaws before ordering expensive tools for injection molding.
3D print for prototyping is changing the way we design products
A lot of the designs we take for granted today are a result of restrictions in production. 3D printing provides new possibilities to create optimized products with new functions, lightweight designs, since design complexity is not a challenge within 3D printing.
Companies leverage 3D printing in order to speed up labour-intensive product development, save costs in tooling as well as allowing spare parts to be created on demand. The technology is also used for low-volume production of optimized end-use parts with superior performance.
But, every new product starts with a good idea. And in this, 3D printing has proven itself invaluable when you want to turn that idea into a physical shape.
Choosing the right 3D print technology and materials for prototyping
There is a broad range of different materials that allows product development teams to test the prototypes and their performance in real world conditions when exposed to chemicals, weather or mechanical loads. There are also a a growing number of materials that mimic the end product. For instance, rubber-like materials or wood-filled composites. But if you only want fast, early-stage iterations, your go-to-material is probably PLA, polyamide or nylon.
When it comes to which 3D print technology to choose for your prototyping – it all comes down to what your needs are. Do you want fast iterations? Do you want strong parts? Do you need super accurate geometries? These all define what 3D printing technology you need. We have listed the most common 3D printing technologies in a guide.