Top 10 Benefits of 3D Printing

3D printing is one of those technologies that seem somewhat mysterious and futuristic. The closest experience most have with the science is from watching Star Trek where Data or Spock could request anything they wanted from a wall-mounted computer consul called the Replicator. It would replicator2theoretically arrange subatomic particles into whatever was requested; like a meal, uniform or a spare part for a machine. Today, the process is a little different than what you might experience on the Starship Enterprise however, that concept isn’t too far off the mark. Modern processes don’t synthesize at the atomic level but rather build one layer at a time by extruding molten plastic or curing a resin using UV or laser light. After 30 years of perfecting additive manufacturing (3D printing) it has become a vital step in product development. Today people are 3D printing replacement tools, ornate foods, textiles for clothing and even organic matter like bone. With this technology emerging in mainstream, I wanted to visit ten major benefits of the technology…

  1. Time-to-Market: 3D printing allows ideas to develop faster than ever. Being able to 3D print a concept the same day it was designed shrinks a development process from what might have been months to a matter of days, helping companies stay one step ahead of the competition.
  2. Save Money: Prototyping injection mold tools and production runs are expensive investments. The 3D printing process allows the creation of parts and/or tools through additive manufacturing at rates much lower than traditional machining.
  3. Mitigate Risk: Being able to verify a design before investing in an expensive molding tool is worth its weight in 3D printed plastic, and then some. Printing a production-ready prototype builds confidence before making these large investments. It is far cheaper to 3D print a test prototype then to redesign or alter an existing mold.
  4. Clear Communication: Describing the product you are going to deliver is often misinterpreted since it leaves construction up to the imagination. A conceptual picture of the product is better than the description since it is worth 1,000 words, but getting to hold the tangible product-to-be, in hand, clears all lines of communication. There is no ambiguity when holding the exact, or at least a very close, representation of the product.
  5. Feedback: With a prototype you can test the market by unveiling it at a trade-show, showing it to potential buyers or investors, or raising capital by pre-selling on IndiGogo or Kickstarter. Getting buyers response to the product before it actually goes into production is a valuable way to verify the product has market potential.
  6. Get the Feel: One thing you can’t get from a picture or virtual prototype on the computer screen is the way something feels in your hand. If you want to ensure the ergonomics and fit of a product are just right, you must actually hold it, use it and test it.
  7. Personalize It: With standard mass-production, all parts come off the assembly line or out of the mold the same. With 3D printing, one can personalize, customize and tweak a part to uniquely fit their needs, which allows for custom fits in the medical and dental industries and helps set people apart in the fashion and jewelry world.
  8. Build your Imagination: In the modern boom of digital art and design, the possibilities are not only accelerating but limitless. One can now 3D print almost anything they imagine after drawing it up virtually. In a relatively short time, an idea, concept, dream or invention can go from a simple thought to a produced part that you can hold.
  9. Square Holes?… No Problem: The limitations of standard machining have constrained product design for years. With the improvements in additive manufacturing, now the possibilities are endless. Geometry that has been historically difficult or impossible to build; like holes that change direction, unrealistic overhangs, or square interior cavities, is now possible and actually simple to construct.
  10. Fail Fast, Fail Quick, Fail Cheap: Being able to test ideas quickly and discover what doesn’t work accelerates discovery leading to an ideal solution. 3D printing allows a product developer to make breakthroughs at early stages that are relatively inexpensive leading to better products and less expensive dead-ends.

David Yakos is VP & Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

“In The Making” – An Inside Look at the Design Process

Sharing an inside look at our design process and the journey of one of our current projects is pretty exciting – especially when it’s with Doc Mike North, host of In the Making.

In the Making takes viewers behind the scenes of spectacular projects, people and ideas while they are being created. Doc North travels the world to give viewers an inspirational look into what it takes to make scientific breakthroughs, create companies and invent the future. Follow North to catch the next big thing while it’s still IN THE MAKING.

In this episode of In the Making, we’re exploring a new, non-lethal weapon alternative and sharing a bit of the developmental process by showcasing concept design, prototyping and production design.  The non-lethal pepper spray attachment mounts to any standard picatinny rail and has a range of approximately 30 feet to assist in defusing hostile situations.

In the Making with @Doctor North

Developing a product that’s used in the field means several prototypes versions are necessary to test the feel and function of the device. It’s important that a product feels right when in hand, which isn’t something that can be determined from a digital CAD file. The product has to feel robust, secure, made for the hand, and easy to operate. In testing this product, we found physical testing helpful in figuring out nozzle size and ensuring the pepper spray reached the correct distance. We also tested and perfected one hand operation including firing, loading and reloading.

The aim in designing this product is to save the lives of people who are unnecessarily shot due to chaotic series’ of events ending in lethal force. Officers are often called to enter situations without knowing the true nature of the environment and whether they will need to be armed with lethal or non-lethal force. This product gives law enforcement an option other than lethal force without endangering themselves or civilians by needing to lowering their firearm to switch tools in the midst of conflict. Now, hostile environments that are escalating to a high-risk situation can be quickly defused before they end in a fatal shooting.  Our goal is providing an alternative to lethal force by making a product that matters.

Thank you, Doc North, for your time and energy!

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

Thinking of You… Designing for the End User

Standing in the greeting card section of my local box store, I noticed a lot of “Thinking of You” cards. Tasked with finding an appropriate birthday card, I thought, “you really have to be an intentional and thoughtful person to get a ‘just-because’, Thinking of You card for someone.” You know the cards… they’re sappy,Thinking-of-You like, “The other day I was smiling for no reason, but then I realized I was thinking of you”; or snappy, like, “Just thinking of you… which reminds me… you owe me twenty bucks.”  As product designers, we have to take this intentional and thoughtful approach in crafting our ideas if we really want to connect with the End User. Buying a card, we know the recipient needs to be cheered up because they had a bad week, or loved on because they are excessively sentimental and feed off the sap. The intent of focusing on the reader’s or users’ needs can be called “user-centered design”.

In User-Centered Design, we need to look at who this End User is from the very early stage of designing a product.  We try to foresee the little girl, old man or even the puppy who will be using the product.  Doing this requires diving into imagination, dreaming up personas and asking questions of them: Will they intuitively know how to use the product without reading the instructions? Will they use it in extreme environments? How will they hold it? Where will they store it? With what will they clean it? Will they try to eat it? In product design, we’re sometimes guilty of jumping right into feature-based design with ideas biased by personal experience and desire… “I want it to look like an iPhone. I want it water-proof and it should be yellowish-orange because I think Apple is the greatest, I’m a swimmer and I really love yellowish-orange…”  What happened to the thoughtful and intentional designer; the kind that buys thinking of you cards? Ask questions!

One fun example of asking questions for thoughtful End User design occurs when creating a new dog toy. When developing dog toys we have to ask, “Who is the End User and what will they do with it?”  Obvious, right?… it’s the dog. But, when you think about it further… the End User of a dog toy is two-fold: a partnership between the pup and its owner.  Both the dog and his master want endless play out of the toy. westpaw-5-twizThe form has to be such that the teeth of the k9 can grab but cannot easily catch and cut into the toy, encouraging a long-lasting chew.  At the same time, it has to fit the hands of the owner who has to pick it up and throw it. Will it be covered in slobber when it’s grabbed? Is there a place that would be easier to hold on? Will it hold a treat and if so, how hard will it be for the dog to get it out? Will we discourage the dog or keep him entertained? How will it fly if thrown? Is the dog owner environmentally conscious and would they prefer an eco-friendly material? Does it matter to the owner where the product was made? Would they clean it if it was an easy process? Will this product ever end up in a pond and if so, should it float? How will this product make them feel? Yep, we have to talk about feelings.

In developing West Paw Design’s Tizzi, we envisioned a dog toy that could offer virtually endless play. We accomplished this by focusing on interactions between the users and toy while playing at the park or at home – not on the toy itself. Through our questions it was revealed that the form could not have sharp edges that would tear if a tooth got caught. In a game of tug-of-war there had to be room for teeth and fingers. If part of the toy became covered in slobber there had to be other grabbing options, or at least a texture to help mitigate the mess. A treat could be hidden in a chamber and the handles twisted and locked to allow for indoor play – possibly on the kitchen floor. The treat chamber would encourage prolonged play for the dogs with obsessive personalities…but what about a high energy dog at the park?  On the Tizzi, when the handles are twisted and locked the age-old game of fetch is enhanced by a toy that flies like a spiral thrown football resulting in even more fun for both End Users.

Lola with her Tizzi

Lola with her Tizzi.

With more questions answered, we select an appropriate material. The award-winning ZogoFlex material offers indestructibility, is recyclable, non-toxic, dishwasher safe, can be made in the USA and it is less dense than water allowing it to float if thrown into a pond or lake. Material selection alone allowed us to hit some major design criteria which were defined by focusing on the End User’s experience. Ultimately, we were successful in creating a product that makes the dog and owner feel good – good about getting exercise, good about environmentally conscious purchases and good about the enhanced relationship after solid playtime.

By asking and answering questions like these, we narrow down the intent of the product which governs the form and final function – not the other way around. We become intentional designers by just Thinking of You

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

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