Developing a product from scratch is an inherently arduous process that goes beyond sketching ideas and creating a few models. To create a retail-ready product, a significant amount of prototyping is required. Some companies manufacture hundreds of prototypes for a single product, so they can experience and test different product iterations before they decide which is most likely to be a commercial success.
This process is essential to create the best product possible. It enables designers to tweak, refine, and perfect their ideas. Mistakes and misfires are a natural part of this. But there is a time constraint designers need to beware of.
This time constraint is brought about by manufacturing limitations. To develop a product quickly, designers need access to rapid prototyping, which can be defined as the ability to create a series of products in a short space of time.
Beating the time constraint
3D printing is an excellent example of a technology that enables this.
With 3D printing, product design teams can manufacture numerous product iterations drawn in CAD on autopilot in a short space of time. A 3D printer with a small build volume can make two or three models in 48-hours. Meanwhile, a 3D printer with a larger build volume, say 330 x 240 x 300 mm (this is the build volume of the Ultimaker S5), is capable of making a larger series of models in one print session without stopping.
This capability is why Idea Reality, a Hampshire, England-based product design and development studio, began recently utilising it when developing new products. They wanted a way to make model iterations quickly so they could be tested quickly. By reducing time to model and time to part, Idea Reality also hoped to reduce time to value.
Iterating products with 3D printing
Most of the products Idea Reality create are consumer-focused. At first, these are manufactured in a small batch before going into mass-production. Their clients, for the most part, include individual entrepreneurs and start-ups, but they have also helped larger established brands bring products to market.
Crucially, each product is completely unique which means the design time is high. With 3D printing, the team is able to design models quickly and manufacture them speedily. Often, it’s possible to design a part in software and print it the next day or have it ready to inspect the next morning.
Initial prototypes for products are 3D printed using an Ultimaker S5 3D Printer, with these prototypes printed in Ultimaker PLA, which is a versatile and easy to print material with a low failure rate. It’s also biodegradable and plant-based, with the fastest print speeds of any Ultimaker filament. It can also dual-extrude in two colours.
Most product development cycles require Idea Reality to make between three and five iterations depending on the project complexity. 3D printing not only helps the design team to push out these model iterations but also perfect designs by highlighting flaws in products and other imperfections which can only be found on a physical model.
“[The technology has shown us] a substantial improvement, not only in terms of what we’re able to achieve in the time and the cost, but also the benefit to our customers,” James Lamb, Idea Reality’s Design Director, says. “We’re finding we’re changing our initial process for prototyping for the first time. We’re doing more of a phase where we’re happy to iterate and run through a project very quickly, in one chunk of work, rather than repeatedly going back to the customer for input. This allows us to give them something that’s right first.”
Creating a better customer experience
Thanks to 3D printing, Idea Reality have also been able to offer customers a better experience. They can now create a prototype overnight and pop it in the post for the next day for their customer. It’s a game-changer which allows them to provide value to their customers in a very short space of time.
Additionally, the use of the Ultimaker S5 has opened up unique benefits over a standard FFF 3D printer. The team have access to a massive material library which enables them to prototype a wide range of different parts and meet the unique demands of their customers.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be limited to the standard hard plastics,” James said. “We were keen to try other materials so that we could essentially do rubberized sections or create little light pipes or things like that. That’s one of the main reasons we went with the Ultimaker, because we felt like it could grow with us.”
Right now, Idea Reality is averaging around 50 clients per year with this number expected to grow over the next 12-months. Their clients are multinational, spanning the UK, Dubai, Spain, Sweden, Australia and India. Thanks to 3D printing, technology is no longer a barrier in their way, and having been so impressed with the results via prototyping, they are planning to explore their options with 3D printing end-use parts soon.
This story was adapted from information first published by Ultimaker. All quotes and images are credited to Ultimaker. If you liked this case study, you can find more like it at our product design page.