There are a lot of companies that don’t realize how useful 3D printing would be for them. In this piece, we’ll explain the 3D printing process by outlining the steps involved. By the end, you should have a better understanding of what we can do for your operation when it comes to production runs.
You can break the 3D printing process into three distinct pieces: product design, prototyping, and production. In the following sections, we’ll detail each of these steps and give you more insight into what goes into this printing process.
Step 1: Product Design
The first of three additive manufacturing process steps is all about designing your product. In this step, you won’t be working with a physical prototype yet. This is where most of the CAD work is done and the conceptualization is completed.
Before going any further, you’ll have to come up with some concepts. Most of our clients handle this step on their own, but you can also have us create CAD prototyping concepts for you. As long as you know what you want the final part to accomplish, we can handle the rest.
Typically, this means coming up with a list of ideas that solve the problem you’re addressing. An in-house engineering team will generate these concepts for you.
Designing for a 3D Printer
This is the first big difference between the traditional machining process and the 3D printing process. When you consider using a 3D printer for your project, you have to make sure the part is appropriately designed.
Designing for a 3D printer gives you a lot more liberties than designing for a traditional machining operation. You can build in lightweighting options, complex geometries, and intricate features. A big consideration is the overall space of your part – remember, it needs to fit within the available printing space of our printers.
A 3D printing shop typically has a lot of different printers to choose from. For you, this means that you have to consider what material you want your part to be.
The big question is whether you want the part printed in metal or plastic. From there, the 3D printing shop can help you decide from their inventory of available materials within that category.
Finally, you’ll need to specify what type of tolerance you’re looking for. In general, our 3D printers can achieve some tight tolerances pretty reliably and repeatably. If you don’t have any preference, we’ll shoot for a standard tolerance.
Step 2: Prototyping
After the ideas are sorted through, it’s time to start running. This phase is all about getting a physical piece in your possession that you can work with. A prototype isn’t going to perform like a final product, but it will give you some answers that you need before you get to that step.
This is the step where a 3D printer really shows its worth. We can quickly print, test, redesign, and re-print prototypes for your operation. 3D printing is a low-cost, easy-to-design, fast-turnaround option. Of course, these two qualities are exactly what you’re looking for in a prototype.
Proof of Concept and Troubleshooting
First and foremost, a prototype is going to prove out your concept. Many of our customers are creating a piece for the first time to solve a unique problem. A computer-generated model can only do so much to prove that your design works – that’s where prototyping comes in handy.
For many, proving the concept means grabbing the 3D printed part and putting it in action. While doing this, you can also get feedback that will help you troubleshoot the overall design.
Testing can take on a lot of different forms. It could be physical limit tests that show you how strong the part is. At the same time, you can test the part in different real-life situations and see how viable the option is.
No matter what your testing plan looks like, this is the time to execute it. If you want to break a few pieces to see their limits, we can make you plenty of spares.
After troubleshooting and testing the piece, you might have some small changes you want to make. This will fit into the “redesigning” part of prototyping. It could be something as small as adding a radius to a corner, or something as large as a complete redesign.
Again, 3D printers are great for quickly making changes and getting a new working prototype to you. It doesn’t matter how small or large the redesign is, you can get another prototype and redo the testing process.
With all of this information and data you compile during this step, it’s time to make a final consideration. This involves the stakeholders in your project and determines whether or not the prototype and idea work well enough for what you want.
It ultimately boils down to a single question: Do you want to make a production run of this prototype?
Step 3: Production
The last stage of the 3D printing process is production. This entails making a final unit that’s ready to get shipped to a customer or used in your operation.
The product will determine whether a 3D printer can be used for mass production or if you have to stick to small-batch runs.
If you would otherwise need to buy special machines and tooling for your large-scale production run, it might be cheaper and faster for a 3D printed batch. In general, most small to medium-run batches are perfect for a 3D printer.
Post-processing is the act of adding finishing touches to a piece before it’s ready for use. For commercially manufactured items, it could mean smoothing the part and painting it.
A production-quality 3D print can go through many different post-processing channels. Sanding, grinding, machining, heat treating, anodizing, and surface treatments can be done to a 3D printed part. This is especially true for parts that are 3D printed using metal. You can achieve the final part you’re aiming for with a 3D printed part.
Large Scale Production
As we mentioned, there are plenty of cases where 3D printing a large-scale production run is viable. In this phase, you’ll be manufacturing a ton of units for sale or use. For traditional manufacturing, you’ll usually choose between injection molding or die-cast parts.
For 3D printers, it means printing multiple items (preferably on the same bed at the same time) over a period of time. The units will be repeatable and shipped to your facility for use. You can also use a 3D printer to help set up a die-cast operation or make a mold of the piece.
Since this answer hinges on a lot of factors, it’s easier to answer it over the phone or through email with our team.
Final Quality Assessment
After a part is made, the quality needs to be assessed. This ensures the quality is perfect and you get exactly what you’re looking for. This step helps to limit how many defects are seen by the end-user.
We can perform some QA steps in-house, but it would otherwise be done at your facility. If you like how the products turned out, it’s time to send it to a customer or use it yourself.
Using a Professional 3D Printing Service
Some professional 3D printing services only provide one of the three steps. To make things easy, at 3D Printed Parts, we handle all three steps. This is great news for people who aren’t positive about how to go from prototype to production – you can just leave it to us.
Some of our clients just approach us with an idea and we handle the rest.
Even if you do know how to get a product designed and manufactured, maybe you don’t have the time, energy, or manpower to cover the full process. That’s another area where it helps to use a professional 3D printing service. For the best product design and rapid prototyping, you can trust 3D Printed Parts.
More Info from the 3D Printing Experts
You just learned all about the three steps of the 3D printing process: product design, prototyping, and production. If you’re still a little lost, you can reach out to us and we’ll clear everything up.
At 3D Printed Parts, we specialize in streamlining the process for you. We can handle everything from prototyping to final production, and you’ll be left with the perfect product. Reach out today and get a free quote to get started.