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How 3D Printing Will Generate Business for Production Manufacturers

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Over at Innovation Investment Journal, Peter Friedman has an excellent article identifying the large scale manufacturing shortcomings of additive 3D printing.  In short, he says that 3D printing can’t handle the speed or volume requirements needed in production scale manufacturing.

However, that conclusion misses the point for small and medium manufacturers.  The importance of 3D additive printers is not that they will replace large scale manufacturing (after all, they can’t take advantage of economies of scale).  Their role is to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to more deeply explore commercial viability.

Inexpensive 3d printing will enable hobbyists and amateurs to cheaply prototype their concepts at a scale that they can sell.  This scale (1-500+ units) isn’t well served by existing manufacturers, who have large minimum order requirements and/or high start up costs.

The next generation of innovative products will be created by designers who can prototype and build manufacturable goods in prototype and small quantities.

 

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

The blue area on the graph indicates where 3D printing provides significant value

New products will emerge from a cottage industry of innovation.  Once economic viability is demonstrated, these projects will need to transition to professional manufacturing, to take advantage of economies of scale.  Manufacturers who specialize in transitioning a product from additive 3d printing (10-500 units) to large scale manufacturing (1k+ units) will have partners in large growth phases.

 

Takeaway points:

  1. Role of 3d printers is to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to more deeply explore the commercial viability of their market and product.
  2. Inexpensive 3d printing will enable hobbyists and amateurs to cheaply prototype their concepts at a scale that they can sell
  3. The next generation of innovative products will be created by designers who can prototype and build manufacturable goods in prototype and small quantities.
  4. Manufacturers who specialize in transitioning a product from additive 3d printing (10-500 units) to large scale manufacturing (1k+ units) will have partners in large growth phases.

 * (I defined “proof of concept” at 1 unit, non-manufactured, non-sellable.  Sellable prototype is one that could be build in quantities of 10-1000.  Production scale is over 1,000 units.  Costs are estimated, although the actual numbers are less important than the shape of the graph.)

Engineer creates own heart valve to save his life

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In 2000, Tal Golesworthy, a British engineer, was told that he suffers from Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue that often causes rupturing of the aorta. The only solution then available was the pairing of a mechanical valve and a highly risky blood thinner. To an engineer like Golesworthy, that just wasn’t good enough. So he constructed his own implant that does the job better than the existing solution–and became the first patient to try it.

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Sailboats that Fly?

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Hydrofoil Sailboats are one of the most impressive watersports out there!  There are not many sailboats that can go faster than the wind.  C-Class Catamarans are a very open class of Sailboat Racing with only a few limitations (same hull used on both sides, a width and length limitation).  Other than that, it is completely up to the designers.  Materials, weight, and sails are un-regulated.

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77,000 freely searchable engineering material datasheets

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MatWeb is easily the most comprehensive materials database freely available on the web.  When I used to work as a deign engineer I probably went to MatWeb at least a couple times a week.

As of this post, MatWeb has over 77,000 materials in it’s searchable database, and they are all free to access, although there are advanced features (advanced search, side-by-side material comparisons, data download capabilities) that require you to register for a free account.  Premium accounts cost $100 per year and give you increased search and comparison functionality and the ability to download materials right into your favorite design software. Read the rest of this entry »

Robotbox lets you collaborate on and review DIY robotics projects.

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Robotbox is a site to share and collaborate on do-it-yourself robotics projects. I know there are a lot of engineers out there who have half completed projects sitting in a box in the basement or garage.

Check out the top rated projects already in the system.

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10 Ways Engineers Can Improve The Machinability Of Their Parts

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Machined Parts

10) Double check your drawing.  Often the default on some design software is actually a very difficult feature to make.  Do you really need a bottom tapped hole?

9) Spend a few days with the QA department the first time they qualify your new part.  It will be eye opening.

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8 Reasons Engineers Should Spend Their Free Time In The Machine Shop

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machine shop 1950s

8. Machinists will often need to alter your part to machine some of the features.  Work through this together and you’ll both be happier.

7. When you first bring your drawing to the machine shop, it’s common to scribble notes and explain what’s “not that critical.”  This is a valuable exercise, but take the time to alter the drawing in your design software before giving it back to the machine shop.

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Efficient 3D CAD Manipulation and Improved Ergonomics

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Spaceball 5000

When I worked as a design and manufacturing engineer, I did a lot of 3D design work in SolidWorks, AutoCAD, and various other packages.  It didn’t take me long to look for an alternative to the traditional mouse to manipulate my designs in the digital 3D environment.  After a little searching, I found the 3D Connexion line of products, and purchased a SpaceBall 5000 (replaced by the SpaceExplorer). Here’s why you should get one immediately.

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