3D prototyping 🖨

How to rapid prototype with 3D printing
May 26, 2023

‍As businesses need to create and innovate more than ever, the need for 3D prototyping is growing. The ability to create prototypes to map out your idea and better understand it brings a lot of value, particularly in terms of clarity.

The benefits are numerous and all contribute to making your product better. This article will dive into what 3D prototyping is, why it's relevant and how you can get started in it ?

What is prototyping with 3D printers?

Traditional Method

The traditional way of prototyping in 3D is a process with a workshop style. Engineers create an object from ground zero which they build with tools, machines, and resources. Parts are constructed piece by piece then assembled together. This is most of the time done with a CNC machine.

While this type of machine is highly efficient, it cannot cut out cavity structures such as bottles or enclosed boxes. With this kind of equipment, many kinds of geometries are not easily achievable. Traditional prototyping can take large amounts of time as the details are done by hand, and assembled by hand.

Rapid prototyping through 3D printing

3D printing is an additive mechanism, a nozzle pushes out plastic layer by layer to create a given shape. It can eliminate a lot of the time-consuming work that traditional methods would take. The process is done through a digital fabrication as the machine follows commands from software. This gives you the opportunity to visualize your product before printing it.

The process allows for complicated geometries like hollow spheres. The major difference with the previous method is the ability to form multiple pieces with any geometries in one printing round.

3D printing is now largely associated with 3D prototyping and is widely used across the industry.

Why should you prototype with 3D printers?

Now that we know what 3D prototyping refers to, let’s look at the reasons why 3D prototyping is relevant.

Fast. The ability to 3D print a product can help businesses do their prototyping in-house, saving them precious time in the process. The filaments for printing the prototypes are readily available, tough, long-lasting, and provide a great finish. This means companies can now do their own prototyping which makes the process much quicker.

Easy changes. As the process is 100% digital, the software gives you a 3D preview of your product, its size, weight, and representation in 3D which you can move around and modify. This makes it extremely easy to test out new ideas and change minor details of your product.

Less Waste. Traditional prototyping starts off with a large block of the given material and pieces are removed to mold the piece into the desired product. This means that a lot of the initial material is removed and tossed out. With modern 3D printing methods, the material is added until you reach your desired product. This process makes for a lot less waste, which means cheaper costs, and is more environmentally friendly.

Various Filament Choices. The material of your product is extremely important, it gives it its properties and looks. 3D printing technologies use filaments for printing that can be switched out. They all come with their own set of properties and come from a wide range of materials like plastic, resin, wood, and metal.

3D printing is now pretty well developed in the plastics department and high-tech equipment is being developed to print out products made of metal.

3D printing is usually used to figure out an initial prototype that is used to make a design choice, most of the time your product will be printed with plastic which what not reflect what you have in mind, but it will still give you an accurate representation which lets you confirm your ideas regarding size, shape, and look.

How do you start prototyping with 3D printers?

We’ve discussed the importance of 3D prototyping, the fact that it’s quick and cost-effective. Let’s now look at the process of building a 3d device.

  1. Fixing your General Idea. Before starting out, make sure you have a very clear picture of your idea, what are your goals and the requirements of your project ? This is particularly important, if you skip this step you might find yourself wondering where you’re going. This will give you a direction to follow and an idea of what to measure to know if you’ve made progress.
  1. Creating a Numerical Model. Most machines today function with software, they require a 3D numerical model of your product to give a specific set of instructions to a 3D printing machine. This is however not the main reason why you should implement a numerical model of your device. A numerical model is easily modifiable and allows you to test out ideas much more efficiently, making it an indispensable tool for 3D prototyping.
  1. Create an Initial Prototype. Once you have a numerical model that correctly represents what you have in mind, you can start printing out your model. This will give you an initial prototype. Keep in mind, a prototype is not meant to be a final product, it is supposed to be used as the basis of your development. You should gather feedback in your prototype, is there anything that seems off ? This is the perfect time to try out new designs if you think the result is not convincing, later on in the production cycle, making a change will be much more costly.
  1. Refine it. Once you’ve gathered feedback around your prototype, you should start iterating over it. What features are missing from your design ? You can start figuring out the technicals like cost, durability, quality, and aesthetics. The key is to find a balance between them all. Once that’s done, you can contact a manufacturer to get things started and maybe patent your product if you think that’s necessary.

The process of 3D prototyping allows you to make mistakes, the idea behind it is that your first iteration will never be the correct one. Planning out the fact that you will iterate and test out designs makes for a more cost-effective method. With the use of a 3D printer, you can already start doing most of your prototyping work. This will give you clarity in your project and allow you to share your idea more easily.

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