3D Printing Technology has helped many businesses in improving their workflow as well as reducing potential cost of error, enabling the production of a better and more cost effective component. However much confusion has been around what purposes these printed 3D Models bring to a company, especially in the area of “Functional Prototyping and Concept Modelling”. These 2 applications have essentially a common goal in mind, which is to properly translate ideas into a tangible form to facilitate communication and feedback within the business. However there are, some subtle differences between them and also in the way that a business can employ the usage of these 3D printed models. In the following paragraphs, we will look at the main differences between these 2 applications and how companies can properly integrate them into their businesses.
3D printed concept models are mainly produced to help designers, engineers and business owner visualise their future products in a tangible format. Due to the additive manufacturing nature of 3D printing technology, companies no longer need bulky tools or machineries to produce their new products prototypes. In addition these do not need to be outsourced, where risk may come in information leak or the failure to produce a satisfactory concept model.
However with 3D printing, these concept models can be done in house and in a much cost effective manner, reducing cost and lead time all together. With the 3D printed concept model in their hand, designers can now make changes to features that would not have been discovered in a 2D computer program. Engineers can conduct ergonomic studies with focus groups and make necessary adjustments to areas that would otherwise cost a bomb to rectify when sent to mass production. These 3D printed concept models can even help the marketing team in accelerating their promotional campaigns, not having to wait for the first product to be produced, demand can be generated way before actual production start.
Going one step forward, 3D printed functional prototypes have to fulfil all necessary applications of a concept model and more. Essentially a 3D printed functional prototype would need to provide statistical feedback on the performance capabilities of the new product design. For instance, the testing of the aerodynamic capabilities of an aircraft can never be done on a full scale. Thus using a 3D printed functional prototype of the aircraft, it can be scaled down and be fitted into a wind tunnel to better improve any flaws which might never have appeared in any computer aided simulation software.
In addition with the multi-material capabilities of Stratasys PolyJet technology, the 3D printed functional prototype can be made to demonstrate living hinges, dynamic friction coefficient and even be used as a tool or surrogate part in the production cycle. The strong and inert properties of Stratasys proprietary “digital ABS” material enables manufacturers to conduct short run production run, producing intricate injected molded samples to be approved by their customers. Surrogate parts can even aid in the production cycle by ensuring a smooth transition in the assembly process. Traditionally all needed parts and components would need to be present before production can resume. However with the incorporation of 3D printed surrogate parts, a high valued component can be replaced temporarily to ensure smooth production.
Summing up, there are many views on the differences between a concept model and a functional prototype. However what is important is the purpose that they serve, essentially in the provision of feedback, be it in quantitative or qualitative form. When properly integrated into their business workflow, 3D printed models can help in streamlining and reducing the cost it take to push new products to market.
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