3D prototyping is part of digital fabrication techniques, which also include laser or water cutting/engraving and CNC-milling/lathing. A designer can, due to 3D prototyping, produce real world prototypes from a computer file. At Knops it gives us the possibility to create nearly complete prototypes early in the design process. In this way we can test our designs and concepts in an early stage.
There are numerous different types of 3D printers with different kinds of quality, print speed, materials, and reliability.
When it comes to 3D printing, reliability is an important aspect. 3D printing is relatively new and new technology is still being developed. Therefore it could be somewhat more prone to bugs. However, this doesn’t have to be an issue when outsourcing 3D printing. Quality can be an issue with very small and detailed products, like Knops. Fortunately, there are plenty of high-quality printers that can print with high resolution.
Most 3D printers are quite slow. The fastest it took to print a small product like Knops is one hour. You probably can imagine that larger products with higher resolution can take up to 12 hours of printing. A great solution for this is just letting the printer work overnight. The next morning you have your prints. 3D printing is still way quicker and more cost efficient than the old way. Before, prototypes were created by hiring a prototype builder or making it yourself in the workshop.
As for materials for 3D prototypes, the most common are plastics. However, it is now even possible to print a different kind of metals and rubber-like plastics. You can even use 3D printing to create ceramics, by using the model for the mold.
Knops Product Development
With the development of Knops, we used 3D printing to fine tune our concept. We used it for ergonomics, mechanics, acoustics and the looks. We printed, tested and iterated. Sometimes we made slight adjustments and quickly reprinted and retest the idea. Other times we went back to the drawing table to figure out a new solution or opportunity. For Knops 3D prototyping was perfect for our development process. We truly believe that it will be used more and more for all kinds of development.
Written by Richard de Jong.