3D Printing Prototypes – An Introductory Approach

3d printing prototypes

Do you have a new product and need to get it market ready? 3D printing prototypes will be your cheapest and fastest way to get your product ready. This guide shares tips and tricks on how to use 3D printing for your prototyping needs.

Prototypes are a convenient method for users, investors, developers and designers to visually communicate and validate their design ideas. This guide will present the following:

3D printing prototype article breakdown.
3D Printing Prototypes

What is Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping or prototyping is a relatively new term. In its simplest form, prototyping is the process used to quickly create your product idea into a physical part. This allows you to quickly see and check the function of your product design. In an engineering product design context, a prototype is usually the first version. It allows you to do tests and improvements to the final product design.

3D printing is one of the most common applications for prototyping. It allows for a great deal of flexibility (able to 3D print complex geometries), speed of production and a range of materials to use. 3D printing can be very useful for providing prototypes for models, props and functional components.

Why should you Prototype?

If you are an innovator, inventor or aspiring entrepreneur, chances are you will be looking to make things that do not exist or aren’t readily available. Your idea of a new invention will need to be tested, especially if you plan on having it sold on the commercial market. 3D printing is a great tool to help you get your first product version created. As stated, using 3D printing, it will allow you to visualise your product idea and use it to make modifications and improvements to it.

When should you Prototype?

The only reason you should be prototyping something is when your product idea does not exist or if your product addresses a solution to a set of problems that haven’t already been solved. If a product solution to your problem is already available, there is no need to recreate a product. The prototyping process functions best when there is a clear problem to improve on at every step of the way.

In this guide, we present a case study on how to effectively use 3D printing specific for prototyping. We use the engineering design cycle to show you how prototyping should be used when creating a new product.

How to Use Prototyping & 3D Printing

We will present a case study to show you how 3D printing can be used in prototyping your product design. The general seven-step engineering design cycle will be used to illustrate the necessary steps in defining a problem, developing ideas to solve the problem, how to select a final solution, when to use 3D printing to prototype your solution, evaluate the physical design, how to iterate and improve the design and finally how to present the final design.

The case study we will be using is a custom in-house design of a new asthma inhaler product. We use 3D printing to develop the prototypes and eventually arrive at the final product ready design. We show you the benefits of 3D printing and how following the design cycle allowed us to present a perfect product that addresses a current problem.

Design Cycle
Design Cycle

Case Study: Design of A New Inhaler

1) Define the Problem

Patients who suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma, rely on inhalers to provide a dose of medicine. In most cases, the medication is delivered using a respiratory device or system such as the standard inhaler device. In general, the amount of force needed to activate a typical inhaler is too high for most children and elderly patients. There have been countless new devices designed to assist with this problem, however, many of them are too complex (electronic), expensive or non-standard (using multiple pieces such as gears). These do not solve the fundament problem, they are not cheap and are complicated to use.

Problem: 1) The amount of force needed to activate the inhaler canister.
2) They are too expensive, complex (electronic) and non-standard (using multiple pieces and gears).

2) Generate Ideas

In order to solve the current problems presented, a number of conceptual designs of a new inhaler device need to be developed. This process usually involves have at least three conceptual designs.

Conceptual Designs
Conceptual Designs

3) Select A Solution

Once the conceptual designs have been done, we need to select one to further improve and prototype. When we assist clients with selecting a conceptual design, we normally use an evaluation matrix. The matrix takes into account the technical aspect of the design, the practicality of the device and the market sector gap the device will be able to fit into. To keep this post short, we will only present the final design selected based on our evaluation matrix.

Selected Conceptual Design: Concept 2
This design is selected due to the internally threaded mechanism.

4) Prototype the Solution

Once a conceptual design has been selected, based on the evaluation matrix, further refinement and design improvements can be done. At this stage of the design cycle, you would want to invest time and effort when designing. We will be using 3D printing to print the final prototype design.

Final Digital Design of the New Inhaler Device
Final Digital Design of the New Inhaler Device

5) Evaluate the Design

After 3D printing the prototype inhaler device, we are able to visually evaluate the device. When you use 3D printing to prototype your design, you are able to get to know if it works the first time or not. This process allows you to get your idea to become a reality in record time.

First Prototype Design
First Prototype Design

6) Reiterate

It is common when the first prototype design does not fully work or you come across new or better solutions to the working mechanisms of the device. At this stage, we reiterate the inhaler device until we find the best design.

Design Iterations
Design Iterations

7) Present Results

The last step in the design process is to present the final results. These results will be based on the prototyping you have done and all the information you have gathered when testing your prototype. The final product will now go into manufacturing using traditional manufacturing processes for mass production.

The Final Prototype Product Designed Device
The Final Prototype Product Designed Device

Final Thoughts

This post presented tips and guidelines on why 3D printing is the best process to use to prototype your next product idea. We also presented a case study of the prototype design of a new inhaler device.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Do You Want to Bring Your Idea to Reality?

If you would like us to help you prototype your next product design or assist by 3D printing your design, send us a message and we will gladly get back to you.

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