The value of 3D printing — the ability to quickly and accurately create a physical manifestation of a virtual representation, in our case CAD Drawings — is both obvious and compelling. Surveys indicate that more than 20% of the top 300 largest brands are now using or evaluating 3D printing whether for prototyping of CAD drawings and other innovation projects or in actual production of what they sell. Over 300 universities and colleges already offer 3D coursework in their curricula – covering aspects of not only 3D printing but also 3D scanning and design. Тhere is no question that 3D has reached, as Dartmouth’s Richard D’Aveni argues in the HBR article, a tipping point.
“We’re seeing a level of investment in 3D printing that we have not seen in the past — not even close. It’s really very interesting, and to some extent, mind-boggling, especially given that 3D printing has been around for more than 25 years.” – Terry Wohlers, founder of Wohlers Associates
With 3D printing relatively mature and now available to CAD designers of almost any budget, some companies are starting to view a 3D printer as a mandatory part of the design iteration process, akin to a workstation. As they strive to provide the capability to every designer and engineer in the enterprise, it’s worth stepping back to examine exactly what a 3D printed prototype can do to add value to a CAD-based product development workflow and what it can’t.
- The mainstream availability of 3D printing will augment and accelerate their existing CAD drawings. It won’t change the tried-and-true CAD design iteration cycle — model, render, simulate, and repeat — that forms the foundation of the modern CAD-based workflow.
- A 3D-printed prototype can serve to validate a design’s look and feel; engineers can’t rely on it to validate the other major deliverable of product design: mechanical properties. A printed part can only go so far in validating function, since more often than not, it won’t exhibit the same physical properties as the eventual production part.
- 3D printing is really about serving the desire of a product’s creators and potential customers to touch and feel what they otherwise could not. A physical prototype’s ability to serve the tactile sense is the only edge it has over a virtual one, albeit an edge that can be very powerful. The appeal of touch, however, will vary by application.
Have you found that you could use some more streamlining in your 3D printing process? Maybe you can use it for the CAD Drawings? Let us know!