4 Step Process to Make it Real!
At 3DRT, our goal is to deliver cost effective & functional commercial quality (3D printed) parts. Trust me when I say that’s not something you can simply order from a pull-down menu and expect to get right the first time. It’s a process. We’ve divided this process into the 4 steps listed below, in order to help our customers understand what’s required to make it real!
Step 1 – Make it digital
- Get 3D model (STEP or STL formats) of part(s)
- Part Analysis and Cost Estimates based on your model
- Optimize model using Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) principles.
All 3D printing requires a digital 3D model to begin (see step 1-A). If you already have a 3D model of a part you want to print, we can start from there and proceed to an analysis of your model (see step 1-B). If you don’t have a digital model, then we’ll need to create one. This is done using CAD, or some other tool (such as scanning), to model the part you want into a 3D format that can be converted to STL and printed.
The digital model should be optimized for 3D printing (see step 1-C) using Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) principles. Generally speaking, the main goals of DFAM are;
- Reduce print time
- Reduce material requirements
FYI, It’s these first two factors that contribute most to the cost of printing. Other important goals which should be considered in Step 1 are;
- Combining form and function
- Reducing the number of component parts
- Reducing post processing requirements
- Improved Aesthetics, and customizations
Enzo Ferrari once famously said “…you can design a car beautiful, or you can design it ugly, it still costs the same”. Although I’m paraphrasing his actual words, this speaks to the importance of the first step in our process. It all starts with a good design!
Step 2 – Make it Physical
- Print cost effective prototypes
- Validate physical outcomes and attributes associated with design
- Iterate as required to achieve optimized outcomes
- Develop project plan and budget (from prototype to fully scaled production)
With 3D print, making it physical can be as easy as pushing a button . The Question is…Which button do you push, and how many times? The process of generating a physical part from a digital model for the first time is by its nature a prototyping process (see step 2-A).
There can be many physical variables that affect the final results when it comes to 3D printing. To be fair, this is true for all manufacturing processes at the prototyping stage. Understanding those variables in the context of a specific use-case (see step 2-B) sometimes requires more than a single fabrication attempt to achieve the desired results.
We use economical test prints wherever necessary, in order to check our assumptions and validate the design (see step 2-C). For example. Let’s suppose you created a digital (CAD) model of a component part which fits into a machine assembly. And suppose that your assembly requires 6 pieces printen in metal. It would be ill advised to immediately print all 6 pieces you need, without testing a single print first. It makes economic sense to iterate and test form & fitment using concept models. These could also be printed in low cost materials using basic plastics, instead of moving to functional production using higher cost composites, or metal materials. Once this process yields a successful prototype, we can then plan and budget for printing the production parts or copies (see step 2-D).
Step 3 – Make it strong
- Select appropriate materials, platforms, and printer settings for fabrication
- Post Processing of 3D printed parts
In the ~30 years since 3D printing was invented, much hype as been made about it’s incredible advantages over traditional manufacturing, and even more has been said about it’s fantastic possibilities. When I first began to learn about 3D printing 8 years ago, there was a lot of talk about it taking over manufacturing. Whether or not that will be the case is yet to be seen… Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. The immediate reality however, is not there. In fact, there are significant barriers preventing such a thing from happening anytime soon.
At 3DRT, we’re aware of the perception that most 3D printed parts lack functional strength and consistency, compared to traditional manufacturing. Whether it’s a perception or a reality, these two factors represent obstacles to overcome with respect to widespread adoption of 3D printing. That’s why we’re focused on selecting those technologies that address these first and foremost. That’s what we mean when we talk about our 3D Printer EcoSystem.
We’ve also found that by using DFAM and Hybrid AM techniques, which optimize and combine outputs from various, tools, platforms and materials (including plastics, composites and metals), we can address virtually any strength concerns our customers have (see step 3-A).
Another avenue showing a great deal of promise when it comes to improving the consistency and quality in 3D printed parts is with post-print processing and treatment of parts (see step 3-B). There are a variety of tools and techniques available that can be used to increase strength, improve surface quality/finish, and add other physical properties like air/water tightness, UV resistance, chrome and powder coating, etc. 3DRT is familiar with a number of these techniques and we’ve used them successfully in the past. We’ve also developed some of our our own in-house methods and post-processes for commercial application.
Step 4 – Make it work
- Functional testing of the finished parts (both real world and/or simulations)
- Iterate process of design, print, and testing as required
- Develop strategies for scaled production
Here’s where the rubber meets the road…If we’re successful in the previous steps 1 through 3, then a successful functional test in Step 4-A should be a forgone conclusion. Here’s the best part…Steps 1-4 can all be accomplished in as little as 2-3 days turnaround time. If however, we get to this point and find that not all is working just as expected, then we circle back to steps 1 – 3 to see what can be done about it (see step 4-B).
Once everything is working as anticipated and you’ve got a fully functional commercial quality part(s), then my congratulations go out to you, along with our appreciation for letting 3DRT help you make it real!