I'm going to start leaping around in topics covered for a couple of reasons: the main reason being that I am the one doing the writing (take that carefully thought out, structured approach!), and the second is that the topic that keeps coming up and gets me so excited about the uses of 3D printing is Rapid Prototyping. Rapid Prototyping covers a wide range of industries but can be summed up as the principle of taking a concept to physical form quicker than we have in years past. We are able to go from idea genesis to actualization in days rather than weeks or months. This helps shorten design cycles, help garner customer feedback, and evolve products...rapidly. Rapid Prototyping ties into the principles of The Lean Startup and allows companies to alter the way they do product design. In this blog, I'll cover the ways one can use Rapid Prototyping, and give you an example of a sped up design cycle.
Eric Ries in The Lean Startup advocates for companies to develop Minimum Viable Products (MVP) in order to get in front of customers. Entrepreneurs master the art of good story telling and even self-delusion. Many of us can tell you what happened and show what we learned with 20/20 hindsight. The challenge lies in setting up ways to validate the experience and make sure that we are working towards a product people want to buy. If you look back at the failure and say, “well this is what we learned,” often that makes us look good, but doesn't create value. We might think that we know what the customer wants, and then we spend all kinds of effort to make it perfect. When it gets in front of the customer, we realize that much of what we developed they don't care about, and what they do want we didn't think of. In other words, get in front of the customer.
People are using this methodology in software and website development, but until recently, it was much more difficult to do this for product creation. Now with Rapid Prototyping, you can go from CAD design to physical product in short time periods and get multiple designs in customer's hands for feedback. The customer will tell you what they like and don't like, and the physical product helps them make design choices. Using a 3D printer, you can then go back and revamp the design and have it back in their hands quickly for feedback. You can do all of this before you finalize the product. In case you are wondering, that is the exciting bit.
To give you an example, a client of ours has a customer with a great idea for a product line that is not out on the market. They designed it in CAD, but the customer could not visualize the product and wondered if there was a cheap and easy way to get them a working prototype. There just happens to be such a method. The client contacted us and we had a 3D print ready for them in 24 hours. Once the client's customer got the product in hand, they were able to recognize that overall it would work, but they wanted to make some changes. Also, the product designer recognized some potential manufacturing issues once they got the product in hand. We were able to make the changes and get the product back to them within a couple of days. The customer can now move forward with the product to get it in front of people who might buy it. Win/Win.
Rapid Prototyping becomes a game changer for product design. As opposed to a large sunk cost involved with manufacturing in the dark for what people might want, you can put actual product in customer's hands before you finalize. This shortens the feedback loop with solid data with the intent of bringing a better product to market faster. Now that is exciting.