Since its conception in the 1980s, Rapid Prototyping has become an essential process for manufacturers to add value to the product development cycle, by allowing products to be developed, tested and manufactured without committing to production tooling and the financial implication that brings.
At Paragon we believe that Rapid Prototyping has the ability to transform product development; speeding up the rate of production and helping companies take their products to market quickly at a reduced cost. Although Rapid Prototyping began as a high cost method, the development of processes like Stereolithography has seen it become much more accessible; opening the door for wider commercial benefits and more efficient product development for Low volume production.
These benefits are not limited to any one sector, with Rapid prototyping processes used in various industries from the Automotive and Medical sectors to Energy and Defence, adopted throughout the entirety of a product’s development cycle from the initial concept evaluation right through to post production analysis.
Introducing Rapid Prototyping into the Design Cycle has significant benefits
Proof of Concept
Design development times have been significantly reduced thanks to the ability to quickly edit and adapt a digital design, before generating a development model via 3D printing. This increased flexibility has also meant that new avenues and design opportunities can be explored – resulting in a better concept.
The ability to produce multiple iterations of a design at the early stages of product development has meant that products can be optimised with the end user in mind. The ergonomics of a product can be an early stage consideration, as no expensive re-tooling processes are required to produce multiple concept models.
Rapid Prototyping processes like additive manufacturing allow for greater customisation at much lower volumes than regular manufacturing techniques. Developing existing products and creating completely new ones can be achieved without further tooling costs or additional machinery. Designers also have significantly greater freedom to create novel shapes and structures of almost limitless complexity, unshackled by the limitations, time and cost of traditional manufacturing processes.
Reduced time to market
Rapid Prototyping accelerates the rate of product development, allowing manufacturers to bring about a quicker return on investment by commencing production tooling at an earlier stage. By making use of additive manufacturing, we can quickly build accurate, functional prototypes which can be sooner brought to market. Rapid Prototyping is also beneficial for companies wanting to undertake product testing and gain valuable user feedback, which can lead to improvements in design and ultimately, an improved product.
Optimised for Manufacture
A physical concept model produced through Rapid Prototyping can give invaluable information regarding the manufacturability of the design, as well as drawing attention to the relationship between parts, which is particularly useful when it comes to assembly. Highlighting any issues with the design at this stage of development will reduce manufacturing time and cost, as manufacturers have the opportunity to perform essential design improvements. With additive manufacturing, we can also produce multiple parts as a single component, thus reducing assembly time, excess tooling, cost and quality control requirements when it comes to general manufacture.
Advances in software allow for complex digital analysis of stresses and loads within components. This data enables non-load bearing material to be removed from the product, thus reducing weight without compromising internal structure and strength. Additive manufacturing is well suited to creating lattice structures that provide essential support, reducing the overall weight of the product and the amount of material required. In Additive Manufacturing, material is only added where needed, so it is an extremely efficient process. Unlike more traditional machining processes which are subtractive, additive manufacturing can lead to significant cost savings by minimising waste, especially when expensive materials are used.
Validation and user trials
Improvements in sintering and casting processes have enabled us to create more functional prototypes, which can be used in extensive field trials. The flexibility of these processes in developing working prototypes allows for further assessment of the design, leading to valuable improvements and reduced risk – all at a lower cost.
Low Volume Manufacture
It used to be the case that to achieve a cost effective manufacturing process, companies had to produce in high volumes, thus minimising the impact of investment in production tooling. However, thanks to Rapid Prototyping processes such as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), we can now create products that mimic the look and feel of injection moulding but without the extra tooling investment. Now designers have more choice of material properties to consider, breaking many of the constraints of high volume production mouldings.
Post Production Evaluation
Rapid Prototyping processes have a short tooling lifespan; some do not require tooling at all. This allows for ongoing changes and alterations to be made to the design without further cost of tool modifications. Manufacturers can release products in controlled batches for trial, making improvements to the design based on initial feedback.
At Paragon we are committed to using additive manufacturing and other Rapid Prototyping processes to provide low volume production solutions for our clients. With continual investment in people, skills and technology we have developed impressive production capabilities and a flexible approach to completing projects across a wide range of sectors including Automotive, Oil & Gas, Aerospace, Medical and Defence.
While 3D printers currently beat conventional methods for the first several thousand parts produced, that number is steadily rising, painting the picture of a 3D printed manufacturing future.
"In the future, it is possible that all short-run part production will use 3D print," Benning said. "Focused product teams [will be] able to launch new products on a weekly or daily basis – only constrained by their time and imagination, no longer constrained by the capital assets needed for analog production. This agile development process for physical parts, enabled by 3D print, has the potential to radically improve and accelerate the products we will see and use in the not-too-distant future."
Dagoma 3D is working on making that a reality. Scaling up production of its 3D printers, which are partially 3D printed themselves, has enabled it to produce 50 to 70 printers per day. The company now boasts three facilities – two in France and one in the U.S. – with a fleet of about 850 3D printers in total. This year, the company expects to ship 15,000 printers.
"3D printing our printers is … faster and … cheaper for the customer," said Matt Regnier, CEO of Dagoma 3D. "3D printing helps us to grow faster, and it helps us to reduce the cost and reduce the price."
A mass-production future?
As time goes on, the number of parts 3D printers can take on while boasting a greater ROI than conventional methods like injection molding continues to grow, Regnier said. Moreover, a production line based on 3D printing technology is easier to tweak.
"I think one of the main advantages … is to be able to adjust and adapt the whole production line with the speed of the 3D printing production lines," Regnier said. "For example, if we want to improve something on our machine, it's easy - it's just one click away. For another technology like injection, it's not one click away; it's two to three months away. You'd have to change molds, ship it, make sure it's ready and working, and then start producing."
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According to Thompson, it's unlikely that 3D printing will supplant traditional manufacturing, but for projects that make sense, it seems inevitable that 3D printing's capabilities will continue to grow in terms of volume.
"The 3D printing industry is tackling making machine efficiency higher and keeping the cost of materials down," Thompson said. "As the industry continues to tackle those challenges, we'll see more projects that make sense for 3D printing at higher quantities, but I think it will be an evolution towards that."
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