Adapted from 3D Printing Technologies for Prototyping and Production, How to Leverage Additive Manufacturing to Build Better Products
Unlike the blueprints, product rendering, and 3D models architects use long before building begins, product development is different. Today’s products are designed to be manufactured in thousands or hundreds of thousands, and both parts and assembled products can be built and tested throughout the development process. That, in part, explains today’s high rate of product innovation. But it also puts a lot of pressure on the prototyping process.
New products have to meet or exceed buyer expectations in a very competitive market. And they have to be developed and rolled out quickly to beat competitors to market. Smart prototyping can support all of those goals; the challenge is choosing the right prototyping processes at each point in development. These processes include Binder jetting (BJET), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SL), Selective Laser Sintering, Polyjet (PJET), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).
There isn’t necessarily a preferred additive prototyping process. The challenge is finding the best prototyping methods for your project and for each phase of your project. Variables among prototyping methods include speed, cost, appearance, supported materials and a variety of physical characteristics. In some cases, all you need is something you can hold in your hand; in others, fit with other components is required.
While a few of the processes mentioned earlier can be carried out in-house, most this kind of prototyping is outsourced. Outsourcing allows the developer to choose the best methods for any particular need. That can entail using multiple prototyping methods over the course of a single project. In selecting a vendor, consider the needs and goals of your project.
Obviously, today’s technologies, processes, and machines for rapid prototyping offer many options as do the manufacturers you may potentially outsource to. We asked Tony Holtz, engineer for Proto Labs, to fill in a checklist of what to consider and questions to ask when choosing an outsourcing manufacturer for your prototype.
Can the manufacturer provide suitable prototyping methods for your specific needs?
- “Do you have materials used in the electronic products industry?”
- “Does your company have a basic understanding of electronics approval processes (CE, UL, EMC compliance…)?”
- “What methods of manufacturing parts do you have and in what quantities or quality?”
Can they help you select the best method at each stage of the process?
- “What manufacturing methods do you have for prototype, low volumes and production?”
- Prototype for handful of parts that could be for form, fit and function
- Low-volumes could be a dozen to thousands of parts
- Production is dependent on the customer’s needs — a few hundred to millions of parts
Do they offer any kind of design assistance?
- “What types of engineering help do you offer and at what charge?”
- “Do you have software that can be utilized for manufacturing analysis to ensure a design is done correctly before we get to production?”
- “How quickly can design analysis be completed?”
If you need a series of prototypes, can the manufacturer provide continuity?
- “How repeatable is your manufacturing methods and what tolerance can be achieved?”
- “Are you able to manufacturer multiple parts at the same time in the same lead time?”
How experienced is the manufacturer in the processes you will use?
- “How long have you been using a manufacturing process?”
- “How many machines do you have?”
- “How many parts or companies have you served?”
Can they produce the maximum quality available for each prototyping method?
- “What resolution do you offer for 3D printing?”
- “What finishing options are there for my parts in all manufacturing processes?”
- “What tolerance is available?”
If necessary, can it provide secondary operations for your prototypes?
- “Can you do plating, painting, assembly, inspection, post machining, post finishing, installing inserts and others?”
If material is critical, what materials can the manufacturer offer in the selected method, and if a particular method cannot utilize your preferred material, can it offer other methods?
- “How close are 3D printed and CNC materials to those of injection molding?”
- “Do you offer material data sheets or material certificates?”
- “Can we send you material to use in manufacturing”?
What turnaround times does it offer?
- “Do you offer fast, automated quoting after upland a 3D CAD model?”
- “Are expedites possible faster than your standard lead time?”
What is the manufacturer’s reputation for meeting deadlines?
- “What is your on-time %?”
- “What capacity do you have?”