3D printing is giving companies an edge over their competition
By Justin Coutu, President of R&D Technologies
Over the years I have been working in the 3D printing industry, I have seen all kinds of design, product development, and manufacturing processes. I have had the privilege of walking many manufacturing floors, design centers, and product development facilities that it has made me think more about what my end goal should be when trying to find the true benefits of any company bringing 3D printer capability in house.
The conclusion that I have come up with is that the majority of the companies I work with need to build their product faster, more efficiently, with less cost and most importantly, before their competition. This is where 3D printing comes into play.
I have seen companies save entire product lines and reinvent themselves simply because they have the freedom within their facility to be more creative on a much faster level with the ability to 3D print their prototypes in house. This capability gives the design and manufacturing process a quicker turnaround time on multiple designs, and even multiple iterations of these designs. Two of the major benefits that 3D printing provides is the ability allow design and development groups to build form, fit, and functional models to test, while the manufacturing division can build jigs, fixtures and tooling to help support many of their needs on the floor. This gets you as close to the end product as you can to test with less waste and less outside cost, not to mention the peace of mind of keeping your designs and ideas in house instead of outsourcing work to service bureau and job shops.
So what am I trying to say here? Take companies like Burton Snow Boards, or Trek Cycling for instance. Companies that truly succeed year after year in their respective industries stay on top with more affordable new advanced products. The reason they can provide their consumers with this is because they know the CONCEPT TO BETA CYCLE better than their competition. They don’t just manufacture a bunch of products and hope they sell based and current market trends. They prototype, prototype, and prototype until they come up with what they feel the consumers are trending towards based on their research. Keep in mind prototypes are very inexpensive, the waste, and error are minimal. You can sand, plate, tap, glue, dye, drill, and paint your prototypes to look and even perform like your end use product.
Once the parts are done to look like the real thing, they are tested over and over through every situation possible. The prototypes are photographed, brought to trade shows, tested again by professionals, then headlined on the company’s website under “HOT NEW PRODUCT”. From there, Burton and Trek determine how the consumers have received the new products based on the orders that start coming in. Last part of the puzzle is they manufacture product based on demand. I know every company is different, each process is different, and this is not an exact science as to what every successful company does.
This is just my opinion based on my personal experiences on how I have seen companies save product lines, thrive in the market place, and beat out their competition. Again, the objective for most companies in their design, product development, and manufacturing is to CONTINUE to create the best affordable product to their consumers as fast, efficiently, and cost effective as possible. 3D printing is giving these companies the tools they need to achieve that number one goal and if you aren't staying up with current technology, your competition is going to start gaining an edge.