3D printing uses: Production with 3D printing | Sculpteo Blog

3D printing uses: Production with 3D printing

Posted By Arthur Cassaignau on Jul 22, 2015 | 0 comments

With raw materials often 10 to 50 times more expensive than traditional manufacturing, 3D printing has been often presented as a manufacturing technology suited for small quantities only (and therefore particularly adapted for prototyping).  This was particularly true until a few years ago, 3D printing technologies are now shifting toward more usability because of their recent development in terms of speed, quality and cost. It means that today, ready to purchase goods can either integrate 3D printed parts or be entirely 3D printed. Production with 3D printing is a real thing.

Last week my focus for this series was on prototyping and you can of course check out my previous post because there is a lot of information covered that will help you as you read this article. Briefly I’ll explain that prototyping is one step beyond “proof of concept” and it is used to address a specific problem or concern with your product. Form, fit and function are the 3 areas that are tested in prototyping. It’s hard to knock it out of the park with your first prototype which is why it’s important to go through the iteration process several times. For more info about the prototyping process read our article here.

As we saw in our previous posts, the most challenging question when you develop a new product is to find the best manufacturing method for it. I’d like to use this post to tell you more about why you should consider doing production with 3D printing.

For the most part, following what others are doing is not the best way to get great results; however in this case I was particularly amazed by the results we gathered in our State of 3D printing report. In the report, 17% of the respondents stated that they are actually using additive manufacturing for production. When we take a particular look at the “power users” identified in the report (individuals and companies who are using 3D printing intensively), this number rises to 50%. This first figure gives us a hint regarding how people are really using 3D printing.

Uses of 3D printing

Declared uses of 3D printing in the State of 3D Printing report. Date is given for all the respondents and the “power users”

It becomes pretty clear that 3D printing is escaping its confort zone to move both upwards in the industrialization process with the proof of concept and downwards with production. To understand the reasons why that’s happening, I think it’s necessary to take a look at the domains where 3D printing is extremly effective.

Particularly, 3D printing is unbeatable in four areas:

  • Complex geometries

The term complex geometries defines shapes that are very complex, with intricate designs and that would for sure cause trouble when manufactured with traditional methods.

  • Mass customization

Not limited by tooling requirements, companies can now cheaply produce thousands of customized parts for customers on a daily basis. By developing a process that integrates customer data into a physical part, consumers now have access to affordable custom fit products.

  • Integrated assembly

This is an area of additive manufacturing showing a lot of promise; imagine reducing the manufacturing process of your objects simply by integrating an assembly plan into your 3D model before 3D printing.

  • Engineering redesign

It defines the process by which a part is redesigned to be optimized. By removing the need for tool generation, the designer is granted the freedom to design a part perfectly optimized for an application.

Before limited to very specific industries operating with huge added value on its products like health or aerospace, these strengths of 3D printing are now reachable to a larger spectrum of individuals and companies because the speed, cost and quality of the 3D printing technologies are dropping.

The NightHawk headphones by AudioQuest are a good example of a product which integrates finished parts that have been 3D printed. AudioQuest turned to 3D printing because the team was willing to manufacture a part with a very complex design. According to Skylar Gray, designer and director of ear-speaker products at AudioQuest :

A grille like NightHawk’s, with its intricate diamond cubic latticework, couldn’t have been made five years ago. The only way it could be created is through today’s advanced 3D printing. So, from the very start, we intended for NightHawk’s grille to be 3D printed. Designing with 3D printing in mind is quite liberating because there are far fewer restrictions and boundaries, enabling otherwise impossible forms and complexity.”


The 3D printed grill assembled in every NightHawk headphones. It mimics shapes from a butterfly wing. Production with 3D printing was the only solution.

Normal, a customized ear-bud manufacturing company, is a similar example of a company that is using the advantages provided by 3D printing. The company is offering clients the possibility to get ear-buds fully customized to fit their ear.


3D printed ear-bud by Normal

If you’d like to discover more examples on why 3D printing might be the perfect fit for your product, I suggest to take a look at our latest ebook about the four areas where 3D printing is unstoppable.

There is, however, a second reason why doing production with 3D printing shouldn’t be overlooked. A while ago, I stumbled upon two posts on Techcrunch from Rui Ma. In each post, she confess on how little she knew about the industrialization process as an investor meeting founders who launched Kickstarter campaigns. Going on to the locations and visiting the factories made Rui realize one thing: factories are not, in fact, dying to take your orders (this really is a must read). This is particularly true for a few reasons:

First, the best factories are very careful when picking their clients. They’re already working with leading brands that can move large quantities and have no problem scaling the process when needed. On the contrary, small startups are not the best clients for them. They lack the capacity to move large quantities, and often experience of industrializing a product. Factories are reluctant to risk and they will rather choose a big brand over a small startup. In other words, don’t overestimate the easyness of finding the perfect factory for your first batches.

Secondly, even if you plan to sell a few thousand of units, it might not be enough for a factory to take your order. Quoting Ben Yeung, executive director at Fujikon:

“Many crowdfunded startups wrongly believe that a few thousand fully backed units (perhaps a few million U.S. dollars in pre-sales, which would generally be considered very successful) warrants a multi-supplier sourcing strategy for key components or even the product itself”

Rui adds:

“The reality is that such “puny” orders cannot meet the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity) for many components, resulting in a much higher BOM (bill of materials) than projected. Furthermore, such demands essentially tell the factory that the team is not ready for primetime and [this can be] frustrating for both sides.”

For those reasons, 3D printing can be a solution to produce your first batches of hardware. It not only offers you the chance to build your product with more freedom in its shape (complex geometries, mass customization, integrated assemblies, engineering redesign), but also you’ll have no upfront cost to make the first batches (Rui largely explains here all the costs often “forgotten” by founders).

Finally, the major advantage of working that way (especially for crowdfunding campaigns) is that you’re able to bring to market a low number of units on which you’ll iterate to take your customer’s feedback into account.

If you’re curious enough to know whether it could make sense to have your product or some part of your product 3D printed, the team at Sculpteo, developed a pretty neat tool to let you have a quote for series. The tool is called BatchControl and it allows you to take virtual control over our 3D printers. You can define the printing orientation, the layer thickness and the amount of polishing that you need. The pricing model also changes to be more adapted to large volume. To enable the mode, you just need to select at least 20 units.

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