3D printing is a quick and low cost way to create prototypes, especially for plastic parts. If you are an inventor or startup looking to get a prototype made, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that you need a rapid prototyping service or a 3D printing company that can manufacture your prototype. Though this is the right approach to getting your first prototype made, but there are some drawbacks of 3D printing that you need to be aware of, if you are trying to bring a new product to market.
These drawbacks are not due to the 3D printing technology itself but due to the lack of awareness among first-time inventors or entrepreneurs on how to utilize this technology the correct way.
You need to think beyond your first prototype
If you are trying to develop a consumer product that you intend to bring to market, then you will eventually need to manufacture thousands of units. But 3D printing as a process is not cost-effective beyond 10-50 parts.
Apart from that, the parts manufactured by 3D printing are weak and have poor surface finish as compared to injection molding which is used for manufacturing high volume consumer products. So eventually, when you are looking to scale up, you will most likely be using injection molding which has different design constraints than 3D printing.
Image: Injection molding process which is used for manufacturing of most consumer products.
The best way forward: Design the prototype keeping in mind the constraints of injection molding but use 3D printing to keep costs low
There are shapes like hollow features, large undercuts or deep, narrow sections that are either too expensive or just not possible to mold.
As a general rule, any shape that can be molded can also be 3D printed but the vice versa is not true. So if you are only designing for the 3D printing process, there is a high chance that you may need to re-design the whole product later when trying to scale up to injection molding.
The best way forward is to design for scalability from the start itself while utilizing the quick and low cost prototyping with the 3D printing process. This is possible by hiring professionals who know the design constraints of both 3D printing as well as injection molding, like we have here at Outdesign Co.
We regularly get inquiries from entrepreneurs who hired a 3D printing technician to design their product and later when they try to scale up, they find out that their product needs to be completely re-designed for injection molding.
If they had considered scalability of their design from the start itself, they would have saved the time and money required in a re-design.