3D-Printing Technology The role of 3D-printing technology in innovation processes

Author / Editor: Roman Dvorak, Editor-in-Chief, Publisher, MM Industrial Spectrum, Czech Republic / Susanne Hertenberger

Czech Republic - An increasing number of companies apply 3D-printing technology already in the early phase of the innovation process in order to identify their customer´s needs from the start.

Fig. The firm SpaceX produces the combustion chamber with regenerative cooling of the SuperDraco rocket engine from a metallic powder by 3D printing.
Fig. The firm SpaceX produces the combustion chamber with regenerative cooling of the SuperDraco rocket engine from a metallic powder by 3D printing.
(Source: MM Industrial Spectrum, Serial Innovations, Part 7, Tomáš Michálek, MakersLab Prague)

The innovation process “Design Thinking” designed by Ideo consists of five steps: empathy, definition, ideal solution, prototype and feedback. Prototyping by means of 3D printing can be most appropriately used in the production of prototypes of physical products. Such a prototype can be easily tested directly with the customer to obtain feedback right away.

Application of 3D printing and prototyping in production can eliminate a lot of mistakes, which if dragged into current production would result in more costs. The communication and decision making aspect is also significant. It is easier to present a physical prototype to non-technical persons to have the product's dimensions, ergonomics or ease of handling assessed. In this way it is possible to identify conceivable imperfections and to use feedback to improve the product quickly.

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It is as easy as ABC

1. Start right now
Select suitable candidates from your team – those who like learning new things and are open to new technologies. Send them to 3D-printing training courses where they can get acquainted with available technologies and materials and learn how to operate the table printer and how to create models appropriate for 3D-printing.

2. Get a 3D printer for your team
The market offers a good variety of table printers you can choose from. The prevailing type of printers is with FDM (fused deposition modelling) technology, also called FFF (fused filament fabrication) technology, where a thermoplastic material flows from a heated nozzle in the form of a wire (filament).

3. Develop and innovate faster
Do not expect the team to be able to spew one prototype after another, a week after the purchase of the printer. They will need some time to get acquainted with the printer – to learn how to control it. The next step is modelling for 3D printing and the optimisation of models to make them appropriate for printing.

4. Think well ahead
3D-printing has the potential to outreach only the innovation of new products in the sense of prototyping. Firms must, in future, preconceive potential new commercial models since 3D printing will have an effect on the entire value chain. Some foreign companies are already investigating 3D-printing technology for mass customising, where each customer will obtain a tailor-made product produced on request.

3D printers have a long way to go. If printing can be accelerated and the number of materials that can be used for printing, can be extended and modelling software simplified, then I believe that a 3D printer on our office table will be a current working tool.

Source: MM Industrial Spectrum, Serial Innovations, Part 7, Tomáš Michálek, MakersLab Prague

This article appeared in www.maschinenmarkt.international.

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