3D Printers have been around for years. However, they seem to be the hot topic of the year. So, what kind of impact can they have on the engineering design process?
The engineering design process can vary from company to company. Usually, it will start with an idea and end with some kind of packet of information going to manufacturing.
The person with the idea can be your customer or it can be the idea of someone within your company [like a customer]. As the idea moves from thought to actual designs [drawings], the 'customer' is likely providing input/approval along the way.
At some point, the 'customer' may want to see a prototype of their idea. Many people cannot visualize what the solution will look like even if they are looking at a 3D model. When you put a physical prototype in their hand, you remove all doubt.
The physical prototype answers most questions about form, fit and function. Improvements/changes to designs are much cheaper/easier if they happen before the design hits the manufacturing floor.
The advancement of 3D Printing technologies has driven the prices down to a level where there is almost no reason not to have your own printer. Companies that have 3D printers wonder how they ever got along without one.
It is likely that a 3D printer could be a process improvement step for your company.
Have you thought about adding a 3D printer to your process?