For product designers, prototyping is one of the more exciting steps in the process of bringing technology to life. Actually being able to see the design that had only been conceptual is thrilling for most inventors and design engineers alike. Much of this excitement comes from the invention and continuous improvement of 3D printing.

3D Printers Have Been Around Longer Than You Think

While 3D printing has technically existed for the last half century or so, the technology has been rather limited until recently.  As with most technology, original 3D printers lacked functionality and form, bulky in size and limited in its abilities. Similar to other technical advances such as computers and cellphones, time has not only brought down the size of 3D printers but the cost as well, while increasing the functionality many times over. No other industry celebrates this advancement like product design. 3D printing is making its mark as it reshapes product development and manufacturing.

3D Printing and Prototyping

So how exactly is 3D printing changing engineering services?  While companies have used 3D printing for prototyping since the late 1980s, technology has become much more widely used by more and more companies. A product development company for example, now has the capacity to create a myriad of prototypes for their clients, allowing for more frequent and better product testing. 3D printing can allow for specific testing of a product or user-group testing on more specific designs.  This is an amazing development in the world of engineering services, and definitely a benefit to those who aspire to bring their product ideas to life. 3D printing prototypes can reveal how products will perform, well before committing to production tooling. This approach provides a highly cost-efficient means of producing numerous design iterations and gaining immediate feedback throughout the critical beginning stages of the development process.

Changing the Capabilities Product Design Companies

Engineering firms did not always have the ability to design, analyze, document, prototype and manufacture.  It used to be that the engineering firm would design it but someone else would actually create the product.  3D printing has been a significant factor in the shift of more product development companies taking a product from concept to manufacturing.  Several engineering firms now have one-stop-shop capability, covering all aspects of product development needs. This can save time and money for all involved.

A New Way to Think About Product Design

3D printing has introduced an entirely new and different way of thinking about product design. Engineers understand how to build a design specifically for 3D printing, and understand how to leverage it for testing. Firms can also offer a single point of contact for a new product project instead of handing it off to different companies with capabilities to address all steps of the design process; much of this is due to the affordability and functionality of 3D printers during the design process. 3D printing offers a high level of accuracy, size, strength and quality for commercial and industrial design and manufacturing needs. Product designers can now design with less regard for traditional limitations of design for assembly and manufacturing, allowing them to accomplish what may be less practical using other prototyping or manufacturing techniques. The ability to refine the form, fit and functionality swiftly can significantly improve production costs and time to market. For product design firms, there is a distinct competitive advantage by including 3D printing as an integral part of their design process offerings.

What’s Next for 3D Printing and Engineering Services Firms

New 3D printing processes have reduced the time it takes for designers and engineers to conceptualize, create, and test prototypes. The anticipated next stage for 3D printing is to move it beyond the stage of prototyping and into the manufacturing stage.  For many product design firms who offer a spectrum of services from design to manufacturing, this is exciting news as it offers the ability to further enhance current offerings to their clients and streamline the overall product design process.

Morten Jensen
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