Louis Nastro  – Business and Product Innovation Strategist

Ever heard of 3D Printing?

This technology has been around for a long time, however, it has been only over the past few years that it has been good enough (or more appropriately accessible enough) to really spur a revolution in the product development process.

Traditionally, the prototyping process in new product development has been a drain on time and resources (both personnel and cash) to get it right. You needed a Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC Machine) to precisely carve out what you wanted to manufacture out of solid blocks of material (a so called subtractive process). To program the machine, tool and through trial and error verify the geometry of individual parts in an assembly is a costly endeavor.

Where CNC machining is a subtractive process, devices like 3D Printers are additive processes, that is, thin layers of powder are applied to different layers of materials and with a laser, fused to one another making very complex parts hence the term Additive Manufacturing (AM).

From a CAD file this can be loaded into the machine and a true to life model can be made. Additive manufacturing processes put very powerful tools into the hands of SMEs which can develop comprehensive test and simulation models all the way to finished parts for actual products.

3D Printing of plastic models for proof of concept and demonstrations is just the tip of the iceberg.  Looking at processes like Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) you can make complex finished parts out of materials such as titanium, cobalt, aluminum and stainless steel.  Anything from an aircraft engine part to cutlery can be produced at a fraction of the time and cost with a CAD model.

No matter how complex your product, Additive Manufacturing processes offer tremendous advantages not only in saving money due to re-work, but in accuracy, time to market and quality control.  The more complex your product, the more AM makes sense.