Self-Assessment for Manufacturers to Adopt Rapid Prototyping for Product Development

From Jet engine components to skin tissues, rapid prototyping or 3D printing has emerged as a disruptive technology, destined to transform the ways products are manufactured.

However, the major shift in manufacturing techniques poses questions on the adoption of this technology and the barriers that prevent manufacturers from considering 3D printing as a replacement to traditional manufacturing techniques.

While many consider the use of 3D printing only for building prototypes, there are few manufacturers who have begun incorporating rapid prototyping to develop marketable products.

A 2014 research survey from The Manufacturing Institute in collaboration with PwC titled “3D Printing and the New Shape of Industrial Manufacturing” showed that 66.7% of manufacturers are adopting 3D printing in some way (for experimenting, building prototypes and building final products). 24.7% of manufacturers are planning to adopt 3D printing in the future in some way.

In such an era of transformation in manufacturing, it is important for manufacturers to realize the potential of 3D printing and perform a self assessment by asking some core questions to exploit the additive manufacturing technology, expand business possibilities and stay competitive in the market.

Here’s a list of self-assessment questions that surround 3D printing technology:

  • How 3D printing can be integrated with your existing research and development, and how can it assist in bring products to the market faster?
  • Can the existing product line be developed using 3D printing? If so, which printing technology would be required?
  • Will the 3D printing adoption be beneficial to the organization through better return on investment? What are the barriers, which if eliminated can make the use of 3D printing easier?
  • Is it better to invest in buying industrial 3D printers or is it more beneficial to partner with the required capability?
  • Have you identified partners or consulting engineering firms that provide 3D printing services to meet short-term needs?
  • Could 3D printing provide opportunities to develop products that you presently cannot? Could such opportunity bring benefits for your business?
  • At what point does additive manufacturing provides maximum benefits i.e. during conceptualization, prototype testing or final products?
  • Have you identified the possibilities of hybrid manufacturing, i.e. combining the subtractive and additive manufacturing to produce parts or complete products?
  • How prepared is your staff to accept the transformation in the organization and what training would be required prior to making the big shift?
  • What are the barriers to adopting 3D printing technology for your organization and how these barriers can be eliminated?
  • How worthy it would be to acquire or develop joint venture with other businesses to develop expertise in additive manufacturing rather than developing internally?
  • Have you figured out the best suppliers and vendors to help you with the adoption of 3D printing?

While this is merely a small list of questions, manufacturers should themselves figure out their domain specific requirements and identify the feasibility of the 3D printing with those requirements before deciding to undergo transformation.

The problem with 3D printing technology is it is still evolving and bound to undergo many changes as new possibilities in material and equipment capability continue to improve.

In many cases, it is beneficial to partner with an engineering firm for rapid prototyping, where the requirement is to build few prototypes for testing or developing one-time complex and large product. This strategy also helps manufacturers with a clear perspective on whether to invest in this technology internally or not.

About Author:

Gaurang Trivedi is engineering consultant. He has applied his engineering expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to flawlessly deliver as per the client requirements.

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