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3D Printing in Prototypes and Manufacturing

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

3D printing is an increasingly popular and accessible industry, used by all ranges of people from hobbyists, schools, design agencies and manufacturing plants. This article gives the basic information of how you can utilise 3D printing and what is realistically achievable.

Image: SLA 3D printing machine

First of all, what is 3D printing? 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing is a way of making a physical product or thing, from a material being supplied into the machine. Where Additive Manufacturing differs from most traditional manufacturing methods is that you add material from nothing, instead of starting with a big block of material and making it smaller (image carving a tree into a bench vs using layers and layers of hot glue).

Types of 3D printing

There are many different types of 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing, methods that can be used, but the main ones for plastic are FDM, SLS and SLA.

Note: it is also possible to 3D print in metals and other materials, please contact us for more details on this.

FDM (also known as FFF) uses a roll of plastic filament and prints layer on layer onto the printers base surface (also known as the print bed). CAD (Computer Aided Design) files are uploaded into dedicated 3D printing software to program the printers to determine where layers need to be placed. Once a part has been printed, it can be taken off the bed and used straight away.

SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) is a process that uses a high power laser to solidify a powder into a given shape. A thin layer of powder is placed on a print bed, before a high power laser selectively sinters the given locations of powder into a solid. Then another layer of powder is added on top of the previous layer and the process is repeated. Once the process is complete, the solid 3D model can be removed from the remaining powder and used. The key advantage of SLS parts is the strength of the final part and wide variety of engineering grade materials that can be used.

Finally SLA is similar to SLS but instead of a powder, a liquid resin is used. The bottom later of resin is solidified with a laser, then the model moves up and the next layer is solidified. SLA offers highly detailed models in a range of materials.

We offer a range of 3D printing technologies with many material options that can be chosen depending on the requirements of your project. Get in contact to discuss your 3D printing needs.

Image: FDM 3D printing example

3D printing for manufacturing and prototyping

3D printing has many positives, it is fast, relatively low cost for individual units and it offers the ability to customise every single unit.

Mass customisation is a key advantage of 3D printing and is a key reason why many industries have turned to 3D printing for a manufacturing method. Unlike traditional injection moulding techniques that require a fixed mould, 3D printing allows each unit being produced/printed to be unique. This has a true advantage when considering items that need to be unique, often due to needing to fit a human, such as dentures, hearing aids and prosthetics.

Image: SLA 3D printed denture examples

Where 3D printing for manufacturing does fault is in mass production and costs. However printers are getting faster at manufacturing, it does not yet compare to the production speeds of traditional injection moulding manufacturing. Costs (in general) are also often much higher when considering mass manufacture of 1000's of units.

However, 3D printing is very well suited for initial small orders to test a product. 3D printing can be used to get a prototype or small batch of a product to get user feedback, potential investment and test the mechanics of the product before investing in final production tools. At Bates Product Design we offer a full prototyping service to identify any issues and get user input as early as possible.

Get in contact to discuss your 3D printing, prototyping or project requirements. Or if you have any further questions relating to anything mentioned in this blog post.

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