Getting the most out of 3D printing

3D printing is to product development, what mobile phones were to communication. A sudden revelation, a disruptive technology, a wealth of opportunity that now becomes difficult to imagine a life without. At least, that’s from the perspective of a product designer anyway… Philosophy aside, I’m confident there are plenty of opportunities for small businesses to reap the benefits of 3D printing.

Design smartly

Techniques like injection molding are also awfully pedantic in their requirements of part design. From draft angles and wall thicknesses to material flow and shrinkage characteristics, a lot of expertise is required. Thankfully 3D printing doesn’t incur the same array of limitations, leading to an easier design process. That being said, there are guidelines for designing ready-for-print parts — but they do tend to vary on the printing technology used.

Example of geometry possible only with 3D printing:

Source: Luxxeon 3D/

Knowing when NOT to print

Owning a printer

While curious creators may like to invest in a 3D printer, using an online supplier will be far more practical for most other use-cases. For people who are more concerned with the result — rather than the process — should look toward the professional on-demand services.

Online Suppliers

Here are some of the top on-demand services available within the UK and Europe.

Know your technologies and materials

One of the best ways to determine the appropriate technologies and materials, is to evaluate the offering of a convenient online supplier. This way, you can find the properties and characteristics of specific materials, as well as finishing options and cost. Here is a summary of the most commonly used technologies with plastics:

Printing on the cheap

1. Creating ‘test blocks’
This technique is useful when you need to find the ideal fitment of parts, auxiliary components or hardware. Simply design and print a test block, which features multiple toleranced variations in one piece. For example, the ideal diameter of a hole, to fit a shaft:

2. Combining parts
Since there are charges for each component you wish to get printed, you can often combine parts to create a single part. This can be a really effective way to save money. For example, this monitor bezel that I had to get printed had a 2 cavities. I simply attached lots of other small parts into cavity (highlighted in red), so the printers just consider it one part.


I hope you have found this article insightful! If you would like to discover more discussion on the product dev process or you need support on your project, head over to my website.

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