I have read and heard a lot about 3D printing over the last two years, but it wasn’t until I visited Jabil’s Blue Sky Center in San Jose, California, that I realized how 3D Printing is driving the transformation of digital manufacturing.
3D Printing accelerates the process from ideation to production
The traditional approach to designing and building a product that can be mass produced is a very expensive and time consuming process. Once a product concept is derived, a 3D model is built using CAD/CAM software. The next step is to create a physical model or prototype. Generally, the CAD/CAM design is sent to another company which will usually take at least two weeks to produce the first draft of a physical model. This is sent back to the original company, reviewed, and typically sent back to the prototyping company to make various tweaks. This course of action repeats until the prototype is in an acceptable form, which can take several months.
Thanks to 3D printing, this entire process can now be completed in one to two days. Here’s how it works. The CAD/CAM design is sent electronically to a 3D printing machine, which prints a prototype to the exact specifications in just a few hours. The prototype is then reviewed, and if it needs to be tweaked, the CAD/CAM design can be immediately changed and resent to the printer. In a few short hours, the revised prototype is available for review. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary, with each iteration taking a few hours as opposed to a couple of weeks. Not only does this greatly reduce the time to get to the final iteration of the prototype, but it also drastically reduces the overall costs.
Another advantage of 3D printing is that multiple 3D printers can be used concurrently, allowing designers to simultaneously print various design concepts so they can see developed prototypes side by side. Designers can then show clients the different design concepts, so clients can choose the ones they like, or request additional modifications. Designers and clients can iterate through this process in real time and come up with a final design in only a day or two. The speed and efficiency of this approach allows designers to try more concepts than they would have attempted in the traditional model with its time and money constraints.
Fail Fast, Cheap
3D printing enables experimentation and innovation. Designers can now try out various designs and get fast feedback. The cost of doing these experiments is relatively low, which empowers designers to try even more concepts than they would have the time and budget for in the old model.
In that model, the amount of the investment in time and money may also discourage designers and clients from scrapping design concepts and starting over. This can result in clients accepting a design that does not meet their expectations. With 3D printing, the fail fast and cheap methodology encourages both designers and clients to continuously iterate until the design meets or even exceeds expectations.
Another advantage of 3D printing’s time and cost savings is that products can be precisely tailored to the customers’ needs. In the old model, creating customized products was not even feasible, because of the time and money it took to produce a single standardized product. With 3D printing, customized products can now be a reality.
Check out this podcast I recorded with Jabil’s VP of Global Automation and 3D Printing, John Dulchinos. John discusses the possibilities that lie ahead, including customized shoes and apparel.
3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing process. The technology is in its infancy stage, and we are only scratching the surface of what is possible. As the speed of 3D printing increases, the business value increases exponentially. In the not too distant future, it may not be too far fetched to see a world where the cost, speed and size of 3D printers allow households to print their own products at home. When that day comes, the business model for manufacturing products will see disruption like never before.
This article was written by Mike Kavis from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.