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How to Use 3D Printing for Prototyping

Prototyping is always a mandatory process for product development. It plays a role to ensure the design outcome performing right in every aspect and feasible for mass-production. After deciding to launch a product, the company will invest more than millions of dollars in setting up production, ordering raw materials from suppliers, and coordinating marketing campaigns. Not to mention those years and funds already invested in prior R&D. Therefore, prototyping is critical by saving the company the wrong decision.


What is the Role of Prototyping?

Role of Prototyping

Source- Just UXDesign


Furthermore, the speed of prototyping will alter the success rate of marketing capturing. One decade ago, the lead time of the mainstream prototyping process took months or more. In these years, prototyping practice has evolved into rapid prototyping by emerging 3D printing. 3D printing is widely regarded as a perfect match for prototyping. FFF is one type of 3D printing with unique advantages in prototyping. It melts and extrudes thermoplastic thread continuously to trace the cross-section of a part for each layer. This blog will focus on FFF type 3D printing for prototyping.

Exploring FFF 3D Printing: Click to View More.
Raise3D Prototyping

Traditional Prototyping Process

Traditional prototyping is a process with a workshop style. By prototyping, engineers are creating an object from ground zero, therefore they have to rely on basic resources like tools, limited machines, adhesives, materials, and human labor. Even with all resources prepared, there are no particular steps to follow. Engineers need to create parts piece by piece and assemble them.

Among all available resources, CNC provides the highest efficiency and taken as major productivity in prototyping. However, it cannot cut out cavity structure such as a bottle or enclosed box. Without specialized equipment, many kinds of geometries are not achievable by an easy process. Under such conditions, traditional prototyping consumes a large amount of time in crafting structure by hand, making numerous single parts, and assembling them.


Traditional Prototyping Environment

Traditional Prototyping Environment


Sources: https://twitter.com/GravityLight/status/1070710236061843456/photo/1

Rapid Prototyping by 3D Printing

Due to additive mechanisms, 3D printing can eliminate a large amount of time-consuming work using traditional fabrication methods. Like CNC, 3D printing is also one type of digital fabrication. This refers to that machine operates by following digital command from the software. In specific, design can create a digital model with intricate geometry never achievable by CNC, such a hollow sphere. The digital design file is then imported into 3D printing software and converted into Gcode which can be read by the printer and control its printing. The major change is its ability to form multiple pieces with any geometry in one printing round. Such an advantage enables 3D printing to create complicated parts in hours that traditionally consume days of manual work. Many enterprise users have proved an extraordinary reduction in prototyping lead time by 3D printing.

Hollow Structure by FFF 3D Printing. Click to View More.

How to Apply 3D Printing for Prototyping Effectively

When considering how to apply FFF 3D printing, users need to identify the prototype’s visual and functional requirements. Prototyping is a progressive process with phases rather than a one-stop process. In common industry practices, there are three levels of prototyping which are proof of concept, appearance, and engineering. Each level has its purpose and requirement and is closer to final mass-production than the previous one. Meanwhile, FFF 3D printing allows user to tradeoff between printing speed and surface quality. Users can change both hardware and software settings to achieve the desired balance according to current prototyping requirements.


Proof of Concept Prototyping

Proof of concept prototype is required at the beginning phase of product development where the designer must verify his design’s feasibility. This stage concerns utility over appearance. A designer only needs a structure that can hold all components together. Meanwhile, the mechanical property is less required because safety and durability are not essential. Before adopting 3D printing, manual work with cheap material was a major approach, such as cutting, gluing, and screwing. The result was usually a simple and ugly structure with components installed. When using FFF 3D printing, the user only needs to focus on designing a more optimized digital scratch and leave production work to the printer. The result will be not only a much more delicate part but also less time spent. The user should choose the fastest setting. Its surface performance may be a little rough due to stair-stepping effects, but it is not against the purpose of the prototype. Also, FFF 3D printing uses low-cost plastic material and machines. Thus FFF 3D printing provides a great match to this prototyping stage.

UAV Concept Prototype: FFF 3D Printed vs. DIY Method

Appearance Prototyping

The appearance prototype, as the opposite, puts total weight in visual aspects and ignores actual functionality. In this stage, prototype aims for maximum resemble appearance to the final products. In other words, it demands requires extremely high printing resolution and low layer height from 3D printing equipment. Usually, with the most precise setting, a professional FFF 3D printer can provide XY resolution as high as 0.2 mm and layer height as low as 0.05 mm, which are enough to meet most visual demands. It needs to be noted that, FFF printer is friendly to thick features, while tiny features performance may be limited. Also, FFF 3D printing needs aid from PVA filament to provide a smooth downward surface, whereas an upward surface doesn’t need it. Users can use more FFF printing to maximize performance, such as printing orientation and design optimization. FFF 3D printer is a great tool for an experienced user in this prototyping stage to deliver satisfying performance.

Maritime Application of Appearance Prototyping with Raise3D Printers Click to View More.

Engineering Prototyping

When entering the engineering prototyping phase, engineers face more restricted standards. Besides visual resemblance, engineers have to consider functional resemblance as well. This means spare parts properties must be close to the functional expectation of the mass-production product. The material used for spare parts should provide certain functional properties that are enough for field trials, but is not fully qualified as those used in final products. Furthermore, the prototype contains different spare parts with different functional purposes. Their functional performance relies on the property of the material used.  FFF 3D printing has an advantage in this aspect due to its wide material compatibility. The current material selection pool for FFF 3D printing includes a wide range of engineering and commodity plastics that provide enough functional performance for short term usage. Users should choose the FFF 3D printer with a higher heating temperature which is compatible with more materials. This allows for higher possible performance and richer property from spare parts.

An Acoustics Engineering Prototypes with Raise3D Printer Click to View More.

3D Printing is Effective

All in all, the user needs to identify the demand for certain prototyping phases and apply FFF 3D printing effectively. As the core feature of FFF 3D printing, automatic production, and freedom to form any geometry helps companies to shorten the lead time, not to mention its low-cost material and machine. To further increase the effectiveness of 3D printing, users can take advantage of its adaptive performance and wide compatibility of material.



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