When does 3D Printing Go Wrong?

A Revolutionary Change

3D Printing has been a revolutionary improvement in the prototyping and product development world. It first got started in the 1980’s and has dramatically increased development quality and speed over time. Now, there are many different 3D printing methods which can be used for many different applications.

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What’s the Catch?

3D Printing has become a popular buzzword in the media which can be interpreted as being synonymous with prototyping. Unfortunately that is a big misconception. Prototyping is a process in which you implement an idea into tangible form for the purpose of verification or validation. There are many different methods that can be used to do this, and 3D printing is only one of those methods.

Appropriate for Application

Every prototyping effort needs to be approached with a clear understanding of the objective and requirements. The prototype must be designed and fabricated with those in mind. If you choose a fabrication method or materials that aren’t appropriate for your objective, then the prototype is likely to fail.

There are at least 8 different types of 3D printing, and each of those has their own various materials and cost structures. Some are cheap, low surface quality 3D prints where as others are expensive with extremely fine resolution. Some methods can infuse additives into the print material for extra strength. This requires you to have a deep understanding of the wide variety of options in order to make the best decision for your prototype, or risk having to build it over and over again costing even more time and money.

It's also possible that 3D printing simply isn’t the right process to use at all. You may need more production-like material properties than are available with 3D printing or you may need to produce more units than it is cost effective to use 3D printing for. There are many other processes like resin casting, CNC machining, and even injection molding that might be more appropriate for your goals.

Here's a Quick Example:

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I want to build a part that has some semi-flexible features. I choose a 3D print material with appropriate mechanical properties. However, what I didn’t know is that some 3D print materials are cured using UV light. And over time, with continued exposure to UV light, my semi-flexible features are becoming more and more rigid. So my prototype may only last a few days or weeks before that feature isn’t functioning. If I need longevity out of this prototype, I should have considered a process like resin casting to take UV exposure out of the picture.

How to Get Help

Consider working with an experienced prototyping team to ensure that you get the right prototype at the right time and don’t spend extra time and money while you’re learning the ropes.