3D printing is the latest in a long line of technologies and innovations that have transformed and evolved the manufacturing industry. As 3D printing technology and materials have advanced, the process has expanded its footprint from primarily a prototyping technique to one that now has applications in every stage of product development and production.
Uses of 3D Printing in the Product Development Process
Additive manufacturing technology has been available for decades, and was almost exclusively used for rapid prototyping applications. As the technology matured, offering higher quality and accessible pricing, it not only became more commonly used across the industry, it also expanded the potential use cases that it offers. These include:
- Early-stage proof of concept: In the initial stages of product development and ideation, the closest you could get to a high-quality 3D model has historically been a CAD drawing. It wasn’t until later in the process that you would have a real-world, tactile representation of the product.
3D printing has changed this, allowing fast and easy access to proof-of-concept modeling, providing early insight into the manufacturability, functionality and viability of the idea — key considerations in moving forward with a concept. Providing these insights earlier in the process allows for more time to fine-tune — improving quality and efficiency through all subsequent steps of design and development.
- Prototyping: Historically, the most common use of 3D printing, 3D prototyping today is more effective than ever. The advent of desktop 3D printers allows design and development personnel to create functional prototypes in-house, reducing costs, increasing speed and agility, and creating a more focused development process overall.
3D prototyping also allows for more iterations to be created at lower costs, improving quality and fostering innovation.
- Production: As 3D printing technology has improved, so have the materials used in the process. Today, 3D printing is capable of efficiently manufacturing production-quality parts for short runs. These advances have proven invaluable for startups, companies testing new products and markets, and any other scenario where short-run parts are required.
The following infographic provides a lot of great information about 3D printing applications in the manufacturing industry: